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What do you fear most, more than anything else? Perhaps you hate spiders, or you don't like heights. Maybe the thought of giving a class presentation makes you nervous. Everyone is afraid of something. These fears are all normal; lots of other people feel the same way that you do.

But what if spiders scared you so much that you would not walk outside your home? What if you were so terrified by heights that you refused to even look out your second-story bedroom window? Would you fail a class if it meant not having to give an oral report? Some people would. For them, their fear is just too intense.

People who have a specific powerful fear suffer from a phobia. A phobia is an intense fear of a specific object, situation, or activity Mental health professionals classify a phobia as an anxiety disorder. Three other common anxiety disorders are obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. You will read more about these in the first chapter.

Mental health professionals have identified hundreds of phobias. Phobias are classified in three categories. The first, specific phobias, center on one object, situation, or activity, such as germs, airplane flight, or insects. The second, social phobias, are fears of being embarrassed in public while engaging in activities such as speaking, eating, or writing. The third, agoraphobia, is a fear of open, public spaces such as shopping centers and playing fields.

No one is certain what causes a phobia. However, many psychologists believe that phobias are behaviors that have been learned over time. A person learns to be afraid of something because he or she connects feelings of fear, anxiety, and tension with it. Other psychologists disagree with this theory and have proposed other causes. You will read more about the theories later in this book.

Depending on the intensity of a phobia, people can sometimes manage and even overcome them on their own. In other cases, they need to seek professional treatment to deal with their phobias. This book will explain some techniques for coping with fear yourself. It will also describe some common types of professional therapy.

Finally, you will learn some tips and techniques for managing fear, stress, and anxiety in your daily life. Everyone feels stressed occasionally, but you can do things to lessen the amount of tension in your life.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaPhobias