Illness phobias are one of the most common anxiety disorders and usually centers on life threatening illnesses, such a heart disease, and brain tumors, or cancer, A.I.D.S and a general intense fear of death. When there is anxiety, the symptoms experienced can contribute to people fearing the worst scenario.
Symptoms of illness phobia will normally include worrying endlessly about a particular illness avoiding the radio, television, newspapers or magazines in case there is an article about the illness they fear. Sometimes people continually check their body or regularly visit their Doctor for constant reassurance.
Illness phobias could be placed nearer to the Obsessive/Compulsive category of anxiety disorders than most other phobias as the accompanying rituals of checking and reassurance can be troublesome. The ruminations about a particular illness or disease are like an obsession in many ways. Very often this phobia is found in people suffering from depression and may well fluctuate according to the level of depression experienced. This phobia tends to be quite short-lived often, less than a year. However, there is no reliable data on the length of illness phobias when there is no depressive element present.
There does not seem to be one particular cause of illness phobia but many sufferers have detailed a number of similar associated problems, apart from depression. These include a close family member or friend with, or who recently died of, the feared illness, a tendency to fear certain hereditary illnesses in their family, various personal problems such as, feeling unwanted, of little value, being lonely, over protected or extremely self-pitying. There have also been “practical” aspects such as, poor general health or persistent pain. In the case of pain, this tends to reinforce the sufferer’s belief that there really is something physically wrong. However, we all experience bouts of pain, or twinges most days of our life but, illness phobic’s are ultra-sensitive to, and alarmed by, their bodily sensations.
Other practical problems have included misunderstanding doctor’s comments or silences. This is not hard to understand given that the sufferer is attuned to the slightest alarm that could be triggered by tone of voice or a “look” when the dreaded subject is under discussion and that they may have consulted this particular doctor on many occasions with the same fear for which he has tried every physical test possible. It is understandable that he/she may be frustrated and inclined to be non-committal or non-communicative to some degree.
Proven successful treatment involves helping sufferers to face the fear by staying in the feared situation. However, illness phobic’s cannot, in the main, “avoid” the fear because most of it is inside them and so, “talking” treatments with a clinical psychologist or other suitably persons might well prove beneficial. Certainly bringing the fears out in to the open will help the sufferer to deal with the thoughts rather than, keeping them “bottled-up”.
Steps for self exposure therapy might well include reading about the particular illnesses, using utensils previously used by a person with the dreaded illness and shaking hands with and eating with patients who, for example, have cancer or A.I.D.S. It is also a good idea to reduce the amount of reassurance they seek and so cope with and overcome the anxiety themselves without involving others in your rituals.
You can get help with this type of phobia. Join recovery group with a trained leader or the mentor service where we teach anxiety management and cognitive behavior therapy.
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The Fear Response
All phobias are centered round our natural reactions to fear. People who suffer from Phobias are really afraid of the feelings of fear that accompany their feared situation. Nearly all phobias are related around situations, places, object or animals which cannot possibly harm them.
Fear is a natural response in all of us. It keeps us safe by making sure that most of the time we are not in dangerous situations. However sometimes when we are not thinking about what we are doing, we do things that are dangerous, e.g. stepping off the pavement without looking and almost getting run over. The vehicle, as it is getting close, will probably sound its horn and our ‘fear response’ will get us out of danger. The shock to our system, when something like this happens, is enormous and very unpleasant. This may cause us to have some unpleasant symptoms, sweating, shaking, trembling, feeling nauseous, and our heart pounds. Without our fear response we would not have reacted but stood where we were in the road and the consequence of that is not hard to imagine.
Fear is a skill, which we have learned as we grow up. How many times do we see children run onto a busy road? They have not learned the fear response.
It can be seen clearly that fear in the right place is essential to our well being. Without it I doubt if most of us would survive very long. Having established that that we need to survive, what has this to do with phobias? The answer is that, over a long period of time, sufferers have learned too much fear and misinterpret situations as if they are real danger. Our body will always respond to the tension in our body and the way we think with the primitive reaction of the ‘fight and flight’ response.