Home Life Fears Vs. Phobias: What Are You Experiencing?

Fears Vs. Phobias: What Are You Experiencing?

by Wilma Lucas

It’s difficult to imagine getting through life without fearing anything. Some people may have an aversion to flying or heights, while for others it may be snakes or enclosed spaces.

Being wary of things you might not know or understand is a natural response. However, the way you—physically and psychologically—respond to these situations is what matters.

For many people, fear and phobia are interchangeable terms for the same phenomenon. Seeing it as two sides of the same coin, they believe any aversive reaction to an external stimulus leads to similar responses in people. Given this explanation, most normal fear or irrational phobias produce come under the umbrella of anxiety disorders. Is everyone who experiences fear and phobias among the 18.1 million Americans who live with anxiety disorders every day?

The answer is no. Fears and phobias are two vastly different reactions to the same stimulus, triggering various psychological and physical responses. To understand what you’re experiencing, it’s important to figure out which one of the two you’re going through.

How Do You Respond To Triggers?

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According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the emotional response to a real or perceived threat is fear. Conversely, anxiety is the anticipation of a future threat.

Since phobias are characterized as a type of anxiety disorder, it’s clear to see that anxious and avoidant reactions caused by heights, open spaces, spiders, or a host of other triggers can be classified as phobias. While fear is understood to be a relatively rational emotional response to things you believe will harm you, phobias stem from irrational anticipation of future distress.

A fear of flying, for example, is only triggered when you’re about to board a plane because the threat is very imminent. Aerophobia, on the other hand, is a phobic response that could result from just thinking about flying or seeing others in a plane or helicopter. If you want to learn more about this specific subject, visit getoverphobia.com.


Where Do These Stem From?

Understanding the source of a fear or phobia makes managing it a little bit easier, but it isn’t as easy to pin down the exact cause of your problem.

Fear may stem from two sources: negative experiences and learning from others. If you were in a car accident as a child, for example, you may have a fear of speeding cars. The bad experience continues to affect how you live your life today because you associate your current experiences with it, forming a correlation that accidents happen when people are speeding.

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Learned fears can also result from seeing the people around us fearing certain objects or situations. Our formative years are important for establishing our lifelong beliefs, that’s why fears learned from others in childhood can continue on into your life. If your mother was afraid of dogs when you were younger, you might grow up with a socially learned fear of dogs too.

The causes of our phobias are harder to pinpoint. Studies have looked into whether people can have a genetic predisposition for phobias. Since anxiety can be genetically passed down through generations and phobias are a type of anxiety disorder, this theory is plausible.


Phobias with a genetic basis explain why people sometimes experience inexplicable phobias. Distress and dread over a situation that you’ve never personally experienced can stem from an ingrained phobia you may not even understand. Evolutionary psychologists claim this is your innate coping mechanism that has evolved over centuries and can be attributed to your survival instincts.

Can You Manage Your Fear Or Phobic Response?

What separates fears from phobias is the manageability of the responses. While both may present physical and psychological responses, the degree to which they manifest may differ. Fears and phobias are usually responsible for sweating, palpitations, trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness, feelings of isolation, and loss of control.

Phobias often cause overwhelming and intense responses that are difficult to manage. These long-lasting effects stem from feeling helpless when your phobic response is triggered. Severe phobias cause persistent physiological and psychological symptoms, as well as disruption of everyday life.

Avoidance of anything that reminds people of their phobias is common. People with certain phobias often go out of their way or change their lifestyles to adapt to their altered reality. If, for instance, you have a phobia associated with flying. You might find yourself using alternative transportation, avoiding airports even to drop off relatives, and canceling vacations. When you can’t avoid it, you’ll probably be anxious, sweating, shaking, and crying throughout the flight.

Phobic responses are severe and debilitating, even when people realize they’re irrational. You might know a cluster of circles can’t do any harm, but you can’t help the phobic response—trypophobia—they trigger.

On the other hand, fears are relatively easier to manage. Since these are normal responses to situations that cause us mild distress and dread, you can get through the discomfort with some strategies.

Unlike phobias—where the response is often out of proportion with the risk—fears often stem from a rational response to triggers.

If you experience flight anxiety, you can manage the jitters with some medication or an in-flight drink. While you might find yourself distressed when you initially confront your fear, you’ll be able to get through it by managing your fear response. Unlike with phobias, you won’t experience a persistent fear or panic—in fact, your worries may dissipate once you’re exposed to the fear-causing event. In this case, once you’ve taken off and settled into your seat, you’ll find that your fear of flying will gradually subside.

Learning To Conquer Your Fears & Phobias

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Overcoming the fears and phobias that have held you back your entire life can be difficult, especially when they feel out of your control. Whether you have a fear of heights or driving phobia, help is within your reach whenever you’re prepared to change your life.

You shouldn’t resign yourself to living in fear anymore. From effective treatments to therapies, there’s a lot you can do to enjoy a healthy, happy life again.

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