She woke up. The sound of her own voice and the light her sister, Sheila, with whom she shared the bedroom had just switched on woke her up. ‘Thank God, it was only a dream,’ Sally thought, ‘but what a nightmare!’ When she woke up Sally found herself standing on her bed next to the wall, searching it frantically with both hands. She was sweating and could sense the pounding of her heart. The commotion had woken Sheila up. Being a light sleeper, Sheila was not amused at being woken up at such a time, as she would have trouble falling asleep again. She’d asked Sally what the matter was, but got no response as she was busy wailing. She then turned on the light, which together with Sally’s noise woke her up. She then realized her sister had been dreaming when she woke up with a start. The sight she saw made her laugh uncontrollably. Now it was Sally’s turn to get angry. Sheila just kept laughing and telling her how funny the whole incident was. “No it’s not,” Sally retorted. “You know I nearly died!” Her sister laughed again before finally composing herself and saying, “You know, Sally, you should get a hold of yourself and try and get rid of all these fears of yours. You see now they’re even affecting your sleep, not to mention mine!
Yes, Sally had some nagging fears that at times caused unnecessary inconveniences and seemed quite irrational. Other than a morbid fear of enclosed places, Sally was scared stiff of heights and preferred taking a longer route to get to a nearby shopping mall than a shorter route which involved crossing a bridge. She also dreaded being in the middle of a crowd. If this happened, she would suddenly appear rather anxious and seemed to have trouble breathing. So if she had to be in a crowded room she would make sure she sat or stood close to an exit.
Sally had several phobias. A phobia is an irrational fear that leads to a conscious avoidance of the feared situation, activity or subject. Phobias are the most common anxiety disorders and can range in severity from very mild to severe. As seen in Sally’s case most phobias don’t standalone, they tend to bring other fears on board. The scientific Latin names for the fears described in Sally’s case are: claustrophobia (fear of enclosed places), acrophobia (fear of heights) and agoraphobia (fear of situations where one cannot easily escape should need arise, for example crowded places).
A number of researchers have come up with different explanations as to why phobias occur. One group attributes them to increased activity in certain areas of the brain, another to abnormal transmission of signals in specific areas of the nervous system and yet another to adaptive reaction to an initial embarrassing social event or experience. Phobias also tend to run in families, so inheritance is thought to play a role as well. Phobias occur uniformly in all races, with preponderance in females. Most specific phobias develop during childhood and gradually disappear. Phobias that persist into adulthood rarely resolve without treatment.