Halloween: Psychiatrist reveals how to cope with phobias

By | October 28, 2018

It’s the time of year when we like to be – scared out of our wits.

But while Halloween is ­frightful fun for most, some of us are gripped by fear all year round because of phobias.

Harley Street psychiatrist Dr Arghya Sarkhel explains how to tackle your terror.

What are phobias and why do we get them?

A phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation.

It can be triggered by exposure to an event or or just by the ­anticipation of exposure.

For example, just anticipating that a spider might be nearby can trigger anxiety symptoms in your body and mind.

A phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation

Phobias can be learned behaviour, developed from family members having the same fear.

They even can be inherited. There is a slight genetic component that can make you more vulnerable to becoming phobic.

How common are they?

There are around ten million sufferers in the UK and it is a an underestimated problem.

They can come in isolation or can co-exist with other mental illnesses.

Sometimes a phobia can be the tip of the iceberg and there may be an underlying problem such as depression, which needs treatment in its own right.

What are the symptoms?

There are two sets of symptoms. Firstly anxiety symptoms including panic, butterflies in the stomach, dryness of mouth, sweating and shaking.

Secondly cognitive symptoms, where you think about the worst possible scenario – like feeling you might die.

A continuous phobia can ­seriously affect your mood. If you are scared of dogs, for instance, you may be scared of going ­anywhere there may be one. This could preoccupy your life.

When should I seek help?

People often seek help late on. If a phobia affects your quality of life, alarm bells should ring and the first port of call is usually your GP, who can signpost you to a specialist.

The good news is there is help available.

How do you treat phobias?

When it comes to treatment the principles are the same for different types of phobia. We do “systematic desensitisation” which means gradually exposing people to those stimuli which are the source of the phobia.

Combining cognitive behaviour therapy with mindfulness can be helpful for all phobia treatment.

I have a mindfulness album – Mindful Living by Dr Arghya Sarkhel – which is available on most digital platforms.

An excessive phobia might need temporary medication to dampen down the symptoms so the sufferer can engage in
psychological intervention.


HEIGHTS: Also known as acrophobia. Sufferers are often unable to travel to or work in a high-rise building.

SPIDERS: Size doesn’t matter and sufferers aren’t just scared of spiders but often of flies and small creatures too.

FLYING: I see a lot of corporate figures who have to fly many hours each year but postpone flights, affecting their performance at work.

PUBLIC SPEAKING: This is so common – even if speaking in front of a small crowd.

DARKNESS: Most kids grow out of it as adults but some continue to suffer. Asking for help is embarrassing.

Mirror – Health