The reactions and impacts of specific phobias can be broken down into three categories: behavioral, cognitive, and physical.
Each category comes with its own specific set of triggers and challenges.
Behavioral Impact: Specific phobias can significantly limit a teenager’s activities. The usual strategy for dealing with phobias is to avoid the feared object or situation, significantly altering the sufferer’s life. Phobias interfere with routines, work, family, school, and relationships. They can cause significant distress and can keep individuals from enjoying life.
Teenagers may avoid parks and outdoor spaces, refuse to attend medical appointments, or may miss field trips if the feared trigger will be present. Although avoidance helps reduce anxiety short-term, avoiding those situations perpetuates the cycle of fear as sufferers never discover how to successfully confront their fear.
In addition to impinging on engagement in daily activities like school and recreation, specific phobias may also impact the individual’s family (for example someone refusing to go on a family vacation due to fear of flying). Family members often go to great lengths to accommodate the child’s phobias and help them avoid the distress. Teens may also seek frequent reassurance from parents or ask them to “check things” (such as making sure a room is free of bugs before going to bed) to alleviate anxiety.
Cognitive impact: This includes any fearful thoughts such as: “The snake is going to bite me!”, “I can’t handle it.” “It will be awful.” and “What if the plane goes down?”
- Increased heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Upset stomach
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Chills or hot flashes
Prevalence of Specific Phobias
Specific phobias have a lifetime prevalence of 15% among adolescents, with the incidence highest at 16.7% between the ages of 13 and 14 years old. Between 18 and 29 years old, specific phobias have a lifetime prevalence of 13.2%. About 22% of annual cases are classified as severe. The average age of onset for specific phobias is 7 years old. Females have a 20% higher likelihood to be impacted than males.