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En español l The Mayo Clinic defines agoraphobia "as a type of anxiety disorder in which you avoid situations that you're afraid might cause you to panic." Sufferers often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place, especially where crowds gather. As a result, a lot of people with the problem never leave the house. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 3.2 million Americans live with agoraphobia.
If you've got arachnophobia, you may perceive the critters to be much larger than they actually are, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Researchers from Ohio State University recruited people who fear spiders to view tarantulas that varied from 1 to 6 inches wide five different times within an eight-week period. The results: the more fear the participants expressed while encountering the spiders, the larger they guessed the spiders to be.
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People who have had a traumatic experience with a dog — as in being bitten or chased — can develop a fear of canines called cynophobia. Others with this phobia may have grown up with a parent who was frightened of Fido, so their fear is a learned behavior. Some are afraid of a specific breed and have no issues with other types of canines.
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A phobia brought on by the sight of blood or needles can be particularly problematic, because those who suffer from it shy away from most medical procedures. Symptoms include fainting, trembling, feeling of choking, tingling in the extremities, rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure.
Acrophobia, from the Greek meaning "summit," can cause people to experience a panic attack in a high place and become too scared to get down safely. Vertigo, which is often used incorrectly to describe a fear of heights, is actually a spinning sensation; it can sometimes be caused by looking down from a high place.
Although up to 40 percent of people have some fear of flying, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the percentage of Americans whose fear is so intense that it qualifies as a phobia and keeps them off airplanes is closer to 6.5 percent.
According to a study published in International Psychogeriatrics, walking and balance problems, being overweight, and certain medications can create a genuine basis for the fear. Experts say a combination of psychological and physical therapies that addresses not just the fear, but also the risk of falling, stands the best chance of success.
Social phobia is characterized by excessive shyness and a fear of being embarrassed in groups. While it's normal to feel nervous in some circumstances — during a job interview, for example — those with a social phobia feel anxiety and self-consciousness in any setting where there are other people. As with agoraphobia, those who suffer from social phobia rarely leave the house.
No one likes the idea of being stuck in an enclosed space for too long, but claustrophobia is more severe. People with claustrophobia often describe it as feeling trapped with no way out. This anxiety disorder tends to run in families and often starts in childhood. Those who have it look compulsively for exits and feel fearful if doors are shut.
Individuals with this phobia are afraid of any kind of travel — whether it's by car, boat, train or plane. "The anxiety could stem from being in an unfamiliar place or being away from home," suggests Madeleine Farmer, a postgraduate student at the University of Queensland, who is conducting a study on phobias in older adults.
Phobias are often treated successfully with cognitive behavior therapy. One approach is desensitization, which slowly exposes you to your fearful situation until you become accustomed to it. Another is virtual reality therapy. In this method, the fearful situation is simulated with computer-generated three-dimensional images and sound. This is more commonly used for phobias involving such things as travel.
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