Phobias are often misunderstood. Most people do not like certain things: spiders, standing on the edge of a cliff, getting poked with needles, etc. Vomiting is one of those things that people typically dislike. However it is important to keep in mind that not liking something is not the same as having a phobia.
Phobias are an anxiety disorder. An individual who experiences a phobia has an extreme reaction to the trigger. Often times they panic. Their brain goes in the flight or fight response. The person affected will have physiological responses such as sweating, rapid heart rate, shaking, and more.
People can have severe cases of emetophobia to the extent that they quit eating and require hospitalization. A phobia should never be disregarded or minimized. It is important to get help earlier rather than later. Parents sometimes wait too long in the hopes that their child might out grow the fear.
My clients with emetophobia are typically children or women. This is not to say that men don’t experience emetophobia. Children are usually brought in because their diet becomes more rigid, they complain constantly about possibly being sick, or they stop eating altogether. Most of the women I see who battle with emetophobia become motivated to engage in treatment when they are considering getting pregnant. In fact, the idea of morning sickness or the potential of vomiting will have women doubt their capability of having children at all. To me, this is heartbreaking.
A very common symptom of emetophobia is the development of somatic symptoms. When someone has an extreme fear of vomiting, their stomach might hurt frequently, feel nauseous, and many other possible symptoms. Somatic symptoms are a manifestation of the anxiety. There’s no physiological reason for your stomach to hurt or to feel nauseous. You just feel that way because the brain is so focused on vomiting. The somatic symptoms subside as you engage in treatment.
My advice to you if you believe you may have emetophobia is to not wait to get help! Yes, treatment will be uncomfortable at first but phobias are typically easy to treat. The trigger is very clear and easy to target. Exposure therapy is clearly the best treatment modality because the only way to overcome a phobia is to face the fear over time. I know that sounds scary. But think of it like you are getting small doses of your fear until you are desensitized to it. I know it is hard to imagine your life without this fear that’s been a part of your life for so long, but with treatment, you don’t have to imagine it. With exposure response prevention treatment, your life can stop revolving around this fear. You can go to new restaurants and try new food, not be so concerned with the expiration dates of foods, be around people who could potentially be sick, be at festivals and other fun events where you might see people vomit, enjoy being in the sun without worrying about dehydration, not ask the people around you whether they could be sick, not experience somatic symptoms brought on by your anxiety, and, finally, get pregnant if that is what you want! Whatever the phobia is preventing you from doing today, you will be able to do after treatment as long as you are completely committed.
If you’re fed up with living with emetophobia, good! Use that as motivation to get the proper help you need. If you have a child you think might be experiencing this kind of phobia, seek help now! Children typically overcome these kinds of fears much faster than adults. Don’t wait! Give me a call or shoot me an email and I can provide additional information about treatment!