What is a phobia?

“To the man who is afraid everything rustles” – Sophocles

You are not alone! Many of us have elements that make us uncomfortable when we come into contact with them. For some though this can be an incredible source of stress and even lead to us avoiding situations or letting us get on with our normal lives.

Phobias generally present themselves in one of two ways.

A simple phobia, where a person suffers a negative reaction when they come into contact with the object of that fear, for example – spiders, flying, dentists or needles.

A complex phobia, where a person suffers continually from that fear and anxiety such as being unable to leave the house.

But why do we develop them?

As a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist I explain to my clients that it’s not the events in our lives that cause heightened anxiety but the thoughts surrounding those events. If it wasn’t we’d all be suffering from panic attacks around exam time or avoid the dentist when we’re due a check-up.

Many of us carry our fears from a young age. This makes sense as up until we are around 8 and then again around puberty we have an increase in myelination. Myelin is the sheath like substance that helps your nerves to carry signals 100x faster.

“As children get older, different areas of the brain become myelinated on a genetically determined timetable. These periods of myelination are critical periods for learning. For instance, the first axons to be myelinated in the language area of the brain are those that enable language comprehension. Six months later, myelination extends to the language-production area known as Broca’s area.” – Tamara Koehler

This obviously has huge benefits to our healthy development.  As children though we also have the ‘capacity’ to over-learn and the concepts and behaviours we develop can often be stronger than the ones develop as we get older. So… If as a child your mother walks into a room and reacts to seeing a spider (or even worse you eating a spider) it’s not much of a stretch to see how this could affect you. Furthermore over the years if you’re re-living this event every time you or your mother sees a spider you are strengthening these neural pathways and keeping them firmly lodged in the your hippocampus.

If we keep them here they are emotional memories. Memories that we feel as our heartbeat rises and become firmly located in the fight or flight area of the brain. That means we will only see the situation from the worst possible perspective, we’ll be on red alert and we will be referring to previous patterns of behaviour in order for our brain to keep us ‘alive’.

These reactions and even the changing of our perceptions (realities) are our brain’s way of keeping us alive. They are part of our evolutionary psychological make-up. We have developed a brain that keeps an eye out for threats and rewards us with neurotransmitters if we are correct. Imagine being told about the threat of snakes before taking a hike. Your senses would be on a alert and every hose or piece of rope would make you jump.

What can we do?

Rather than being ashamed or letting others make fun of your fears the best thing you can do is acknowledge them and their impact on your life. Then you can start to move them from the emotional parts of the brain and into the narrative parts, so that those worst case scenarios seem like a story you read once rather than a drama unfolding in the present.

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP),  Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Hypnotherapy have all been used to help sufferers move events from the emotional areas to the narrative parts of the brain. Helping to give clients control over those aspects of their lives that may have begun to have a wider impact.

Finally if you are struggling with a fear or phobia  – talk to someone. Your GP or a qualified professional can often advise you of the best course of action.


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A bit more information

Ben Gaskell is a Clinical Hypnotherapist working with clients who suffer from anxiety, stress, low mood and phobias. He practices from Stretford and Deansgate, Manchester and serves the areas of:


Altrincham, Stockport, Trafford, Urmston, Didsbury, Sale, Chorlton.


Deansgate, Northern Quarter, Spinning fields.

Further details can be found on the ‘getting here’ or ‘contact’ page. For more information on how Ben at Greater Manchester Hypnotherapy can help you please call 07756 932 702 or email