This is a question which means very different things to an array of different people. In simple terms, and those suffering from phobias may not recognise this cold hard description, a phobia is an irrational fear of a situation. As ever, these cold hard medical descriptions do not describe the fear and the impact that a phobia can have on an individual person's life. It is also worth noting that living with someone with a phobia is also very challenging and therefore the ability to understand exactly what a phobia is can be invaluable.
Fight or flight
Experts will very often revert to a saying known as "fight or flight" which is an inbuilt reaction to a specific situation. If your body senses danger which cannot be avoided then the physical and emotional reaction of your body will prompt you to leave the situation as soon as possible. If the "danger" is limited or perhaps just a small challenge then your body will react differently and move to "fight mode". This effectively means that your body is prompting you to remain within the situation and tackle any challenges.
Fight or flight is something which is inbuilt in all of us and something which goes back to the beginning of the human race. This invaluable sense of danger and whether indeed we should fight it or leave dictates all of our lives.
Phobias override fight or flight
For those not suffering from phobias it can be difficult to understand how your body reacts and effectively forces you to take a particular action. In many cases, where phobias are involved, these irrational fears can override our core fight or flight senses and prompted us to avoid or leave a situation which is to all intents and purposes no danger. However, you try telling anybody who has a phobia that the physical extreme beating of your heart, the excessive sweating and the pounding head are not real we guarantee you will have a job on your hands!
In many ways overcoming a phobia is strongly linked to rewiring your fight or flight senses to avoid irrational fears which do not seem irrational at the time. Many people who have been cured of phobias or learned to live with them will tell you that taking a step back in high-pressure situations, and reviewing the situation in the cold light of day, helps them cope. The ability to control your emotions, which can kick in on an irrational fear, is paramount to learning to live life again.
Is it all in the mind?
Those who have never suffered from a phobia will tell you that it is "all in your mind" but, as we mentioned above, you try telling somebody whose heart feels like it is beating out of their chest, they are sweating profusely and their head is pounding and telling them to leave the situation. The fact is that nobody has ever died of a panic attack and thankfully many people are successfully cured of phobias or learn to live with them.
It is imperative that you understand phobias ARE real, the perceived fear in the mind of sufferers IS real and their physical symptoms ARE frightening. However, chatting with fellow sufferers, swapping thoughts and ideas is the first step towards a more controlled and a more enjoyable life.