Don’t give in to phobias

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Jemma Pixie Hixon, a singer from Malvern, Worcestershire, has attracted fans from all over the world after posting videos of herself performing on YouTube. It’s not just her voice that has gained the public’s interest however, but also her open struggle with agoraphobia, which has meant the 20 year old hasn’t left her home in over two years.

Sufferers of this condition experience extreme fear and often panic attacks if they leave home, or if they are in a stressful situation such as crowds or queuing in a shop where they may feel it would be difficult to escape.

In Jemma’s case, she suffers panic attacks if she leaves the house – and so to avoid these, she remains indoors, using a makeshift recording studio in her bedroom. Panic attacks can be extremely unpleasant, and symptoms can include problems breathing, heart palpitations and feeling faint.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is a sense of anxiety which is triggered by exposure to a specific object or situation. They affect lots of people to varying extents – in some cases they aren’t too disruptive, whereas in others, they can be restrictive and stop someone leading a normal life.

People can have phobias about just about anything, but common ones include a fear of heights, spiders, snakes or perhaps birds. Some have an irrational fear of thunder and lightning or perhaps are terrified of needles. Other phobias can make life more difficult. Some people can be so scared of flying that they will avoid it altogether. This could mean, for example, that there are restrictions on a family holiday if one member is unable to board a plane.

Treating people with phobias

No one seems quite sure why phobias develop, although it is known that more women seem to be affected than men and they can run in families. But if you are affected, the good news is that there is treatment for phobias, although it may take some time to see results. It also takes a considerable amount of courage to make a decision to do something about it.

Some people may decide to tackle their phobia themselves, with family members offering support. Or, if the problem is more serious, a GP could recommend professional help. This may be available on the NHS or you may need to see a private therapist. Treatments can include behavioural therapy which could again include controlled exposure to develop desensitisation – and relaxation techniques to deal with anxiety.

Other treatments include ‘flooding’, which involves exposure to the fear – the aim is to show the patient that no harm has come to them and their fears are unfounded. Meanwhile, cognitive behavioural therapy is based on changing your way of thinking so that you no longer see something as frightening. Medication may be offered if your symptoms are more severe and you are also suffering from depression.

If you’re someone who is feeling generally anxious, this may make it harder to tackle a phobia. It could be that you are worrying about many smaller things and feel things are spiralling out of control. A positive first step could be to try and do the things you have been putting off, for example if your finances are causing you to worry, getting debts under control or ensuring you have family protection such as life insurance in place. Being in the right frame of mind means you can then concentrate on overcoming your phobia once and for all.