Dave is frightened of flying. In an airplane he gets nervous and thinks about the plane crashing.

Amy avoids going to the dentist. She becomes apprehensive, fears the pain and is embarrassed by her nervousness. She feels that she must do whatever the dentist says, whether she understands it or not.

John fears public speaking. He worries for weeks before a talk, can’t sleep the night before and rehearsing doesn’t help his confidence. He tries to get out of giving talks if at all possible.

These people suffer from phobias, irrational fears and avoidance of certain objects or situations. Phobias may be of places and things (such as heights), of people (such as social gatherings), or even of oneself (agoraphobia is a fear of one’s own feelings of anxiety).

Learning to Be Afraid

Phobias are irrational, which means people may be afraid even though the fear doesn’t make sense to them. For example, someone may fear a dog even though the dog acts tame and friendly.

Phobias frequently begin with a frightening experience. A child bitten by a dog, for instance, may fear dogs afterwards—at least temporarily. We also can learn to fear by watching bad things happen to others, and by being around people who are themselves fearful.

In general, avoidance and worry will increase the fear, while reassuring experiences will help a person become less fearful.

Unlearning Fears

Phobias are among the easiest to treat of psychological problems. Even if the fear is severe, the treatment can be fairly brief. In fact, we often can reduce or eliminate a phobia ourselves if we go about it properly.

The two main principles of phobia treatment come from common sense notions. If you fall off a horse:

1. Get back on right away so you don’t develop a fear of horses; or
2. Practice approaching the horse and riding a little at a time to get used to it.