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The Fear Factor: Phobias

From aviophobia, the fear of flying, to zelophobia, the fear of jealousy, the list of phobias that harrow the human mind runs long.
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WebMD Feature

Phobias come in many different forms. Acrophobia is the fear of heights. Aviophobia is the fear of flying. Felinophobia is the fear of cats. Myxophobia is the fear of slime. Xyrophobia is the fear of razors. While some are well-recognized, others are unheard of, but whatever the phobia, the person suffering from it is living with fear and anxiety.

"Phobias are the most common mental disorder," says R. Reid Wilson, PhD, spokesman for the American Psychological Association. "Over their lifetimes, 11% of people will have a phobia."
What are phobias, and how can someone get treatment for a fear that prevents them from shaving? WebMD looks at the different phobias that harrow the human mind, and experts explain what treatment options stand a chance against razors.

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Fear vs. Phobia

"Phobias involve the experience of persistent fear that is excessive and unreasonable," says Wilson, who is author of the book Don't Panic. "Phobias are cued when a person approaches a particular situation or object, or even anticipates the approach of it, and they understand the fear they will experience as a result of that situation will be unreasonable and excessive."

The key to distinguishing a fear from a phobia is that that while most people get the jitters if a spider crawls on their arm, people suffering from arachnophobia -- the fear of spiders -- are physically and/or psychologically impaired by it.

"To be defined as a phobia, the fear must cause some level of impairment," says Wilson. "I had a woman come in who was afraid of spiders, and it got to the point where she wouldn't go out at night because she couldn't see where they were."

How does someone get to the point where she is so afraid of spiders she can't go outside?

"There are nature and nurture components to phobias," says Kathy Hoganbruen, PhD, National Mental Health Association spokesperson. "While we don't know exactly why or where phobias originate, they are a type of mental illness, with genetics playing a role, as well as environment, meaning maybe someone had a negative or traumatic experience related to the core of their phobia."

Fear Itself

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he was describing phobophobia -- the fear of being afraid.

Though FDR had a different message in mind, he unknowingly hit on something else: Phobias run the gamut of life and include everything from spiders to outer space.

"The most common phobias involve natural disasters or elements, like water and lightning; animals or insects, like spiders; and blood, injuries, or injections, such as people who faint at the sight of blood or a needle," says Hoganbruen.

Fear of flying is another a well-recognized phobia, and since 9/11, has only gotten worse.

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