A phobia is an extreme, irrational fear of a particular situation or object, and is an example of an anxiety disorder. There are several types of phobias but three include agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. The characteristics of phobias can be divided into three categories:
- Behavioural – there are two types of behavioural characteristics and they are avoidance and panic. Avoidance is the key behavioural characteristic and this is because when someone with a phobia is presented with an object or is put into a fearful situation, the first initial thing they will do is avoid it. A prime example of this is if someone has a social phobia, they will avoid being in big crowds, and if someone who has arachnophobia they will avoid being near spiders. Panic on the other hand is the other behavioural characteristic and this happens when they come face-to-face with their fears and cannot avoid it. This results in panic and causes a high level of stress and anxiety on the person. What can also happen is it can result in the person ‘freezing’ due to the fear being so intense. This is part of the ‘fight or flight’ fear response. This freezing response is an adaptive response to make a predator think that their prey is dead.
- Emotional – The main emotional characteristic of phobia are unreasonable and excessive fear, panic, anxiety, and a feeling of dread. An emotional response is set off by the anticipation or the presence of a specific situation or object, which is excessive in relation to the danger actually posed as.
- Cognitive – there are also two types of cognitive characteristics and they are irrational beliefs and selective attention. A person’s phobia is defined by their irrational thinking about the stimulus and this causes them to fear. An example of this is a person who suffers from arachnophobia may think that all spiders are deadly, despite the fact that no spiders in the UK are deadly. On the other hand, if a person with a phobia is presented by a situation or object they fear of, they will find it hard to concentrate because they are preoccupied by anxious thoughts, and will therefore direct their attention elsewhere. This means that because of their selective attention, it will cause them to become fixated on the object they fear due to their irrational thoughts and beliefs about the danger.
Depression is one of the most common mood disorder, and mood disorders can be characterised through strong emotions, which can affect the way a person functions normally in their daily lives. A mood disorder can affect an individual’s behaviour, perceptions and thinking. There are different types of depression such as manic depression known as a bipolar disorder, and major depression known as a unipolar disorder. There are a range of possible symptoms people who suffer with depression can experience. In order for someone to become diagnosed with major depression, sufferers are required to show at least five symptoms every day for at least two weeks. Characteristics are then divided into three groups which are:
- Physical/behavioural symptoms – there are many behavioural characteristics of depression including pain especially headaches, muscle ache and joint ache, change in appetite, lack of activity, and insomnia. First of all there is often a change in the person’s activity level, with sufferers constantly feeling tired. Leading on from this, sufferers then often experience sleep disturbance, with some people sleeping more, or less, or experiencing insomnia. Finally, sufferers whose appetite changes may have significant weight changes too due to them eating less than usual or more, and losing or gaining weight.
- Affective/emotional symptoms – the key emotional symptoms of depression include extreme feelings of sadness, despair and hopelessness. Sufferers will also experience feelings of worthlessness and anhedonia which is no longer having an interest in activities that used to be pleasurable. Diurnal mood variation can also occur and this is the change in mood throughout the day, for example feeling worse in the morning time. Even though experiencing a depressed mood is the most common emotional symptom of depression, some people experience anger that can be directed towards others or themselves. Anger can also lead to self-harming behaviours sadly.
- Cognitive symptoms – along with the behavioural and emotional symptoms of depression, there are also cognitive symptoms. Cognitive symptoms are things such as experiencing persistent negative beliefs about their abilities and themselves. Along with this it involves suicidal thoughts and finding it difficult to maintain or pay attention. Sufferers are often slower in responding at making or to decisions. Furthermore, they are also more inclined to just focus on the negatives and not identify the positives and in some cases this can lead to them experiencing recurrent thoughts of death, suicide or self-harm.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two parts which are obsessions and compulsions. The majority of people who suffer from OCD that experience obsessions and compulsions that are linked together.
The three types of characteristics for OCD are:
- Behavioural – compulsions of OCD are the behavioural aspect and for people who suffer with OCD, compulsions have two properties. One of these properties is that compulsions are mental or physical repetitive actions. Sufferers will often feel the need to repeat a behaviour, for example repetitive hand washing. The second property is compulsions are used to reduce anxiety or prevent a feared situation from occurring but in reality they would not actually stop a dreaded situation and are excessive. For example with the excessive hand washing being caused by an excessive fear of bacteria or germs, it is therefore a direct response to the obsession.
- Emotional – the emotional characteristics of OCD are usually characterised by anxiety caused by the obsessions. However, some of the sufferers of OCD also experience depression due to the anxiety they go through. As the obsessions for the sufferer are persistent, this causes a high level of anxiety for them. This anxiety can result in them having low moods and a loss of pleasure in everyday activities, because these everyday activities are being interrupted by the repetitive compulsions and obsessive thoughts.
- Cognitive – Obsessions are the cognitive part of OCD and are the reoccurring and persistent thoughts, impulses and images. Examples of these are the fear of safety by leaving windows and doors open, perfectionism – a fear of not being the best, and fear of contamination by germs and dirt. For people who suffer from OCD, these thoughts keep happening over and over again. The sufferers tries to ignore the thoughts, impulses or images however it unable to. In most people these thoughts cause stress and anxiety. Some sufferers of OCD try to deal with their obsessions by introducing cognitive strategies. An example of this is sufferers with religious obsessions might pray over and over again in order to reduce their feelings of being immoral. Furthermore, sufferers of OCD realise that their compulsions and obsessions are irrational, so they experience selective attention which is directed towards the anxiety-generating stimuli. This is similar to the selective attention people with phobias have.
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