Imagine standing at your front door, dizzy and nauseous. The thought of leaving the house gives you shivers and makes you feel anxious. Unfortunately, it’s not like that feeling you get when you’re nervous about going on a first date. It’s a dreadful experience that occurs from the idea of going outside and completing a simple task such as visiting the store to pick up some groceries.
Before you start judging or even laughing, take a step back and try to understand that this is a real situation that millions of people around the world are experiencing.
It’s called a social phobia and is one of the two most common complex phobias. If you have anyone close who is suffering from a specific or complex phobia, you certainly know what they are going through. It’s hard for those who don’t know such a person to comprehend what they think and feel, but luckily this blog will tell you all about it.
What are phobias, and which phobia types exist?
Firstly, never mistake a fear with a phobia. Think about fear as level one and phobia as level 100. Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder manifested by a persistent, unrealistic, and excessive fear of an object, situation, animal, or activity.
They can develop at any point in life, but childhood phobias mostly disappear on their own. In contrast, phobias present in adolescence or adulthood persist for a more extended period if left untreated.
The complexity and severity of a phobia can range from mild to severe. Also, a person can have several phobias types, but today we’ll cover the major ones, although there are hundreds of them. Before we jump into the categories, you should know that a person can develop a phobia for about almost anything, even for long words (Sesquipedalophobia).
Generally, there are two classes of phobias: specific and complex. The specific phobias fall into four major categories: animals, situations, medical treatments, and natural environment. You’ve surely come across some of the most common ones, like the fear of spiders or snakes, flights or confined spaces, blood or needles, thunder or heights. Most of the time, people suffering from these phobias can avoid situations and triggers.
On the other hand, complex phobias are much more invasive and make everyday tasks feel like a living nightmare. The most common types are social phobias and agoraphobia (associated with the fear of open spaces). In these situations, the sufferer feels helpless and believes that there is no escape.
What causes phobias, symptoms and are there any risk factors?
By now, you must be asking yourself about the causes behind these terrors. Well, there are a few, and it’s mostly a combination of them that triggers the phobia. If the individual experiences an incident, traumatic event, or long-term stress, there is a chance a phobia will develop. Also, learned responses are common risk factors, as you can inherit fear from a parent or sibling at an early age. Interestingly, in recent years psychologists found a link between character vulnerability and proneness to phobias, meaning that genetics can play a role.
We mentioned that the severity of the symptoms could vary, and most of the time, it’s a combination of both physical and psychological.
Physical symptoms include feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and like you about to faint. You can experience trembling, shaking, choking, shortness of breath, chest pain, heart-pounding or tachycardia, sweating, hot or cold flashes, vomiting, diarrhea, panic attacks, etc.
Psychological symptoms are connected with being out of touch with reality, feeling helpless and having no control, the fear of fainting, or even dying.
Could there be complications, and can phobias be prevented?
A lot of the time, people suffering from phobias can cope with their fears. Then again, a significant number will experience complications such as mood disorders, out of which depression is most common. Besides depressive moods, any other form of anxiety can take place.
Other complications include developing a substance addiction, which gives the person the impression that they can handle the stress or help numb their feelings and escape from reality.
Social isolation arises when the individual suffers from social phobias, which impairs their ability to practice social skills, triggers negative emotions such as loneliness, and makes it nearly impossible to have relationships.
Most alarmingly, one of the more severe complications is having suicidal thoughts and taking your life. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent a phobia from happening, but there is always something you can do about it.
Traditional Therapy vs. New Therapy
Now is the time we look on the bright side. Considering the fact that almost all people living with phobias are fully aware of their problem, the diagnosis stage is skipped, and the focus is aimed towards treatment. It’s important to note that all phobias can be either cured or managed if therapy is introduced.
Traditional treatment methods cover cognitive behavioral therapy, such as exposure therapy. Other forms of treatment include self-help or medications.
Self-help is excellent for those whose phobias are mild and not caused by genetic factors, meaning their will is strong. They believe they have what it takes to find a solution by practicing mindfulness, making lifestyle changes, and trying self-exposure.
Psychologists prescribe medications to sufferers who have severe cases but are mostly not advised because of the side effects. This form of therapy is usually short-term and the most common medicines used are antidepressants, tranquilizers, or beta-blockers.
The most effective treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, which uses several techniques and sessions to tackle the fear. Besides the usual talking therapy methods, exposure therapy has proven to be most helpful. By facing their fears, the sufferers can get cured. Of course, this is a gradual process that starts with talking, then showing images of the object/animal/situation, and ultimately facing them in real life, i.e., holding a snake in your hand.
Although effective, there are downsides to this form of treatment. The concerns are mainly connected with safety and duration. The person going through therapy needs to visit an actual location and face real elements to trigger the fear, sometimes the object or situation is beyond the psychologist’s control, and panic attacks can occur in public places that will cause embarrassment. Also, the patient needs many sessions, and sometimes it’s logistically challenging and costly.
Thankfully, there is an emerging technology that can avoid these unwanted situations. As VR, AR, and AI technologies advance, the opportunity for virtual psychological therapy is becoming an exciting reality. Virtual reality technology can help clinical specialists improve their psychotherapies and give their patients safer, more effective, and faster treatment.
By combining smart map design with VR technology, we craft innovative experiences and medical solutions. In this way, public scenarios can be virtually simulated and personalized. There is no need to travel to a specific location. The environment is private, completely controlled, with no exposure to real danger, and the psychologist or therapist monitors and controls the levels of intensity through artificial intelligence.
Our software evolves from traditional therapy and improves exposure therapy’s overall experience by eliminating the risks and adverse outcomes.
Before VR therapy, the psychologist would expose the patients to a real environment. If they had acrophobia (fear of heights), they would have to visit a tall building and stand on some terrace without the risk of having a panic attack or experiencing some other symptoms like vomiting and embarrassing themselves in public.
With VR therapy, the patient is exposed to the height at the psychologist’s office’s comfort, and if they get overwhelmed, all they need to do is take their glasses off and relax on the sofa, not worrying that some stranger might be staring.
Another example is facing ophidiophobia (fear of snakes). First are the talking sessions, then showing pictures and videos of the snake, and ultimately, they would have to face a snake in the flesh. Can you put yourself in the shoes of the patient, trying to hold a real-life snake in your hand?
Scary, right? Well, yes, if you were actually at the zoo holding it, and no, if you were experiencing the same thing in VR. The beauty of the software is that it seems real enough to trick your brain into thinking the simulation is reality, and on the other hand, you don’t need to worry about getting a snake bite. Sure, you’ll feel shivers and hot rushes, but since you know there is no tangible danger, the sessions seem more manageable.
How can I help someone who is suffering or having an attack?
We covered a lot of ground and talked about many phobia-related things, so besides the information, what’s the takeaway? Having general awareness about phobias is one thing, but showing real empathy and knowing how to react to a given situation is another. Manifesting understanding and compassion in moments of panic attacks could be a game-changer for the person going through a tough time. If we all educate ourselves and practice selflessness, we become better people and encourage others to help more.
So, if you ever find yourself in a setting where someone is showing anxiety symptoms, here’s what you can do. First, wait for a little to see if the person is alone or has company. If they are with someone, don’t’ worry. The companion should know how to handle it. In case the companion looks confused, or there is nobody near, slowly approach the person. Make sure your calm, and talk softly. If you have a bottle of water with you, offer them a sip and advise them to take deep breaths. Reassure the person that everything will be okay, and try to take the situation seriously because if they notice your tone is giggly, they could panic even more.
If there is a chance, take the person to a quieter place, anywhere not too crowded. Sit down and, after a minute, open a friendly conversation. Tell them you know what they are going through and say they show bravery to expose themselves in an environment they feel vulnerable.
Most of the time, it’s really about improvising, so use your intuition. After the individual completely calms, ask if they’ve ever tried therapy. If they aren’t already aware of the options, you can give them a heads up and tell them about the novel VR therapy. Hopefully, the person will start feeling better, and you might even make a new friend.
We believe that by partnering with psychologists and clinics worldwide, we can offer this new and promising tool. We want to enable effective and safe sessions with a shorter duration and lower cost. Our vision is to help all people suffering from phobias and ease both the patient and therapist’s process.
Our new treatment will be available very soon, and we can’t wait to show you the results. If you have any questions or would like to talk to us about a potential collaboration, you can reach out HERE.