Phobias: A WAFF 48 News Special Report - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Phobias: A WAFF 48 News Special Report

There's no such thing as a person who's fearless. Fear is a natural emotion that can actually save your life, but some lives are turned upside down by a constant, illogical fear known as a phobia.

There are hundreds of phobias, many you've probably never heard of.

Bonnie Shipp of Arab graciously agreed to let the folks at Arab Fire and Rescue help us monitor her heart rate. Bonnie has haphephobia, a fear of being touched, especially by strangers.

Her heart rate was already clearly elevated, just being in a strange place with a camera in her face. Her heart rate jumped up to 98 as the monitor was clipped to her finger.

When she was approached by a relative stranger, she backed up. When that stranger tried to hug her, Bonnie's heart rate went up even more. She got dry mouth and she balled her hands into fists.

A few years ago, Bonnie would have never have tried an exercise like this. In 2005, she spent two months barricaded inside her home without ever going outside. She said she was too afraid to leave her safe place.

Her husband, Nathan, finally picked her up, carried her out to the carport and set her down.

"He grabbed me by the shoulders and said, 'Fight, I know you're in there,'" remembered Bonnie.

That event was her turning point. She started seeing a counselor the next week, and with that counseling and her faith, she's been improving ever since.

So what is a phobia?

"Something becomes a phobia when there's avoidance associated with the fear or it's tolerated with extreme distress," said Huntsville psychologist Dr. Chris Bloom.

In other words, you may be a white-knuckle flier, but you still fly. With a phobia, you avoid the things that frighten you.

Fear of flying is a more common phobia, but if you check a list of all known phobias, it's amazing.

[Phobia list]

The list includes a fear of the color yellow, bald people, clocks, the moon, teeth and the sun. There's even a phobia of phobias, called phobophobia.

In Bonnie's case, she and her counselor were able to nail down a root cause of her fear of being touched. Bonnie perceives allowing someone to be close to her physically as giving them the power to hurt her emotionally. Now, she's slowly removing that protective bubble.

Dr. Bloom said some studies show one in four Americans will experience an anxiety disorder. Our fast-paced, stressful world can be a factor. So too can traumatic experiences, maybe from childhood. And having other family members with phobias can have an influence.

"The treatment for phobias isn't a one size fits all," said Dr. Bloom.

Dr. Bloom uses relaxation therapy, where you utilize deep breathing techniques during treatment. He also uses exposure therapy, where you face your fear, one small step at a time.

He also uses cognitive therapy, where the purpose is to challenge irrational beliefs and replace them with more positive coping responses.

Bonnie has worked up to hugging several family members, but strangers invading her personal space make her react negatively. Even a stranger brushing by her in a crowd or getting too close makes her mad.

Her message to others with phobias is to seek help. She said there's no reason to suffer in silence and have something like this ruin your life.

"Recognize you need a little help. Asking for help isn't necessarily a bad thing," said Bonnie.

In fact, Bonnie plans to go back to college to become a mental health professional. She wants to reach out and help others like she's been helped.

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