Maybe the thought of getting onto an airplane puts you into a state of panic. Or, every time you’re driving across the Golden Gate Bridge during rush hour, you feel intense anxiety and start sweating profusely. Or maybe, when the local circus is in San Francisco, you avoid going for fear of running into a clown. You know your reaction is irrational and that, logically, you are safe. You know the statistics about how safe it is to fly, drive across bridges, and interact with clowns. However, despite this knowledge, you are still terrified.
Does this sound like you or someone you know? If so, then you (or they) might be suffering from a specific phobia. A specific phobia is an anxiety disorder where a person experiences intense fear when being exposed (or anticipates being exposed) to a specific object or situation, such as bridges, airplanes, clowns, dogs, blood, etc. Any object or situation can be the focus of a specific phobia. The person knows the fear is excessive or unreasonable, but this does not stop the fear.
The good news is that specific phobias are one of the most successfully treated psychological problems. Exposure to the feared object or situation (also called “in vivo exposure”) is the treatment of choice for specific phobias. For example, someone afraid of heights might first walk to the second floor of a building and look out a closed window, and gradually work up to going to the top of Coit Tower and looking down at the view. So instead of suffering needlessly on that next plane flight, or missing out on all that fun and cotton candy at the circus, seek out therapy for the fears that stop you from living a full, anxiety-free, and ecstatic life.