Phobias Are Phobias Triggering a Physiological Response? By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. Learn about our editorial process Updated on November 01, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Vasily Pindyurin / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Physiological Responses Understanding Phobias Diagnosing a Phobia Treatment Physiological responses are the body's automatic reactions to a stimulus. Most of us are familiar with the automatic and instinctive physiological responses we experience every day, but we typically remain unaware of them. Many of us are also prone to more severe physiological responses to stimuli like stress that tap into what is known as the "fight or flight" response. When placed in a stressful situation, you might begin to sweat and your heart rate may increase, both types of physiological responses. Physiological Responses to Phobias Physiological responses happen when we perceive that we're under stress or danger, whether it's real or imagined. The fight or flight response is your body's way of protecting you by producing stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline so that you can be ready to either fight or run. If you have a phobia, coming into contact with the object of your phobia can serve as the stress trigger for different types of physiological responses. Physiological response to an intense and irrational fear can manifest itself in physical ways, including: DizzinessDry mouthFaster breathingHeart palpitationsNauseaPanic attacksShakingSweating Your physiological responses may be mild or severe, but they are not generally dangerous. However, these physical symptoms can mirror those of some medical conditions, so it's important to check with your doctor if you experience them. Understanding Phobias While the physiological responses you experience when you have a phobia are often a unique reaction to a specific fear, it's important to know if this response is, in fact, caused by a true phobia. Mental health professionals cannot use a lab test to diagnose a phobia, so they use the criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as DSM-5. A phobia involves an intense and irrational fear, but it's important to note that fear and a phobia are not the same. Diagnosing a Phobia In order for a phobia to be diagnosed, it must cause significant distress or interfere with your daily life. For example, a strong fear of snakes may not be a phobia for a city-dweller who would rarely come in contact with a snake. However, it may represent a severe phobia in a farmer whose country property is home to numerous snakes. There are many anxiety and other disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can cause phobic-like reactions to certain situations. A mental health professional will do a comprehensive evaluation of your history and experiences to arrive at a correct diagnosis. Treatment Many phobias continue to worsen over time, so it's a good idea to get treated promptly. The two commonly accepted forms of treatment for phobias are medication and therapy. Many clinicians prefer to try therapy first, adding medications only if needed. Both types can help with the physiological responses caused by phobias. Therapies One of the most accepted forms of therapy for phobias is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, your clinician works with you to confront the feared situation and change your phobic reaction by changing the automatic thoughts that occur. Exposure therapy is a technique used in CBT that works well in treating phobias. A popular type is known as systematic desensitization during which you're gradually exposed to the feared object. You learn to tolerate increased exposure bit by bit. Medications In addition, prescription medications can help with physiological responses caused by phobias. These include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers, which limit the effects of adrenaline on your body. Other Treatments Many people find relief through complementary and alternative treatments and mind-body interventions. However, these methods should only be attempted under the supervision of your mental health professional. 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Institute of Mental Health. Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013. By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.