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Phobias and Panic Disorders

A phobia is an intense fear of a specific thing like an object, animal, or situation. People change the way they live in order to avoid the feared object or situation. Phobias can affect relationships, school, work or career opportunities, and daily activities.

Panic disorder involves repeated and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a feeling of intense fear or terror that lasts for a short period of time. It involves physical sensations like a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, shaking, sweating or nausea. Some people feel like they’re having a heart attack or suffocating, or fear that they are dying. However, a panic attack goes away on its own.

Anyone can experience a panic disorder or phobia. No one knows exactly what causes phobias or panic disorder, but they are likely caused by a combination of life experiences, family history, and experiences of other physical or mental health problems.

Most people who experience problems with anxiety recognize that their fears are irrational but don’t think they can do anything to control them. The good news is that panic disorders are treatable.  

Some physical health problems, such as heart or thyroid problems, can cause panic symptoms. Your doctor will look at all possible options to make sure that another medical problem isn’t behind your experiences. 

Supporting a loved one in distress can be difficult, especially if you don’t fear the object or situation yourself. You may also be affected by a loved one’s anxiety. With the right tools and supports, people can manage anxiety well and go back to their usual activities. Here are some tips for supporting a loved one: 

  • Remember that thoughts and behaviours related to anxiety disorders are not personality traits. 
  • A loved one’s fears may seem unrealistic to you, but they are very real for your loved one.  
  • People naturally want to protect a loved one, but ‘helping’ anxious behaviours (like taking care of everyday tasks that a loved one avoids) may make it harder for your loved one to practice new skills. 
  • If a loved one’s behaviours are affecting you or your family, it’s a good idea to seek family counselling. Counsellors can help with tools that support healthy relationships. 
  • Be patient—it takes time to learn and practice new skills. Take time to congratulate a loved when you see them using skills or taking steps forward. 
  • Set your own boundaries and seek support for yourself if you need it.