Overcoming Your Specific Phobia

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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Specific Phobias

About 12.5 percent of the US population suffers from a phobia at some point in their life.  The following are some common examples of specific phobias:

  • Acrophobia: Fear of heights
  • Aerophobia: Fear of flying
  • Agoraphobia: Fear of open spaces or crowds
  • Aichmophobia: Fear of needles or pointed objects
  • Anginophobia: Fear of angina or choking
  • Ataxophobia: Fear of disorder or untidiness
  • Atelophobia: Fear of imperfection
  • Atychiphobia: Fear of failure
  • Autophobia: Fear of being alone
  • Cynophobia: Fear of dogs
  • Dentophobia: Fear of dentists
  • Emetophobia: Fear of vomiting
  • Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking
  • Hemophobia: Fear of blood
  • Iatrophobia: Fear of doctors
  • Lockiophobia: Fear of childbirth
  • Mysophobia: Fear of dirt and germs
  • Ornithophobia: Fear of birds
  • Pathophobia: Fear of disease
  • Sociophobia: Fear of social evaluation
  • Technophobia: Fear of technology
  • Trypanophobia: Fear of needles and injections
  • Venustraphobia: Fear of beautiful women
  • Zoophobia: Fear of animals

What is considered a healthy level of anxiety?

Anxiety is often a healthy and adaptive part of life, as it can be beneficial to boost motivation, wellness, and performance. When your body takes advantage of your natural nervous system response, it pulses stress hormones through your body in small doses to make you more proactive, productive and creative. 

Healthy anxiety helps you prepare for presentations, work interviews, school exams, or any performance-driven task. It keeps you energized, engaged, and aware.

When is anxiety a problem? 

Anxiety is no longer adaptive when it reduces your productivity and significantly intrudes on your quality of life. You might find that you miss out on going places, seeing people, or participating in activities. You may spend too much time anticipating a threat that never comes. Anxiety can cause distressing physical symptoms, cognitive disruptions and emotional upset. 

How to treat specific phobias?

Since a certain level of anxiety is adaptive, the goal in treating anxiety and phobias is not to get rid of anxiety. Rather it is to learn how to manage anxiety in order to optimize physical and mental well being. In order to decrease the frequency and intensity of your phobia symptoms, follow these strategies: 

Identify your exact trigger

In order to properly manage your anxiety, it is important that you identify your exact fear trigger. 

For example, if you have a needle phobia, what exactly are you afraid of? Are you scared of the pain? Are you fearful that the needle will get stuck inside you or pierce a major organ? Do you fear passing out when you see a needle? 

If you have a driving phobia, are you afraid of being the driver or being the passenger? Are you afraid of causing an accident? Are you scared of the other drivers? Do your panic symptoms make you feel such a loss of control that you fear veering off a bridge or into nearby pedestrians?

Evaluating the exact fear is key in determining what an individual treatment plan will look like. 

Understand the mind-body connection 

Understanding that the mind and body work in tandem is a crucial step in managing the nervous system. By reframing our thinking about our fight, flight and freeze response, we can learn a variety of strategies to shift our emotional experience to one that is less activated.

Face your fear

By confronting your fear, you are disarming the false alarms inside your body and weakening the threats your mind poses. Through repeated exposure to your feared stimulus, you will increase your distress tolerance, deactivate your nervous system response and ultimately free yourself from your phobia.

Relaxation and Mindfulness

Through progressive muscle relaxation, you will calm your nervous system and relax your body one isolated muscle at a time. You will train your mind to break away from the negative thought patterns and stay in the present moment. 

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most effective tools in decreasing blood pressure and heart rate which, in turn, promotes relaxation. In doing so, you can train your nervous system to desensitize to the perceived threat. 

Guided meditation 

Through guided imagery, a calm voice will guide you along a path toward relaxation. You will close your eyes and imagine yourself mastering the skills necessary to navigate through your specific phobia with a calm presence. You will see yourself no longer cowering in the presence of your thoughts. You will envision yourself handling the situation in a relaxed way and feeling a sense of pride in your ability to do so.


Advanced Behavioral Health, LLP provides CBT for specific phobias using scientifically-proven techniques. Call 646- 345-3010 or email Dr. Suzanne Feinstein at drfeinstein@behaviortherapynyc.com for a free 15 minute consultation to see if you qualify for treatment.

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