Phobia is from the Greek word phobos, meaning mortal fear. It is the most common anxiety disorder, affecting up to 14% of Americans during their lifetimes. Whether it's a fear of flying (aviophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia) or any of the dozens of other phobias, the condition causes a persistent and unreasonable fear that severely limits the sufferer's ability to freely work, play or socially interact. A rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, trembling and a strong desire to flee are among the common symptoms of phobias. People with phobias often make irrational choices in order to avoid the feared object.

Sadly, many people with phobias go untreated. Others become dependent on sedatives, such as alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonopin). But there are other options that not only relieve symptoms, but also address the root cause of the problem. Recommended…

  • Therapy. One way to cure or reduce the severity of a phobia is to understand it. Talk therapy, hypnotherapy, exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a type of mental "reprocessing" of the phobia reinforced by eye movements, can help. Ask your doctor to recommend a mental health professional specializing in one of these areas.
  • Gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). This amino acid, available as an over-the-counter supplement, is excellent for treating phobias. Preliminary studies confirm what I have seen in my practice-taking a GABA supplement helps calm the brain and create a sense of well-being while maintaining one's mental alertness,

Typical dose: 200 mg up to three times a day or 15 minutes before exposure to the object of your phobia. I prefer a sublingual or chewable form since it's quickly absorbed.

  • Rescue Remedy. This is a Bach flower remedy, a type of natural medicine made from the distilled essences of five flowers. Available in stores that sell homeopathic and natural medicines, it calms the nervous system and helps ease stress.

Typical dose: Starting 15 minutes before the fear-inducing event, take four drops on the tongue. Repeat every 15 minutes for an hour, then take four drops every three hours, if needed. Use Rescue Remedy alone or with GABA. Rescue Remedy contains alcohol, so speak to your doctor if you take medication that interacts with alcohol.

  • Strength training and aerobic exercise. Though not discussed in the medical literature on treating phobias, a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise has enhanced the results for my patients who have tried the approaches described above. Becoming physically strong often leads to mental strength and a sense of control-both of which can lessen or completely cure phobias. Consider starting with an exercise class, such as cycling or Zumba, or work with a personal trainer.

Afraid of the Dark?

A small study found that nearly half of the adults who had trouble sleeping were afraid of the dark

Implication: Insomniacs should be evaluated for dark-related phobias as well as specific sleep problems.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in