Eastenders’ Jamie Borthwick on his hidden condition

This Morning: Woman conquers phobia in bath of custard

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The NHS explains that a phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. Often sparked after a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object, phobias can become so severe that it causes the person a great deal of anxiety and can lead to restricting their everyday lives. This is exactly what has happened to 28-year-old Borthwick, who has developed a phobia of being sick.

“I’ve never really spoken about it, but I’ve got a real phobia about being sick, called emetophobia,” he detailed whilst talking on a podcast earlier in the year.

“I really suffer quite bad with that, and it affected me in so many ways. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to shake people’s hands.

“It became a thing about germs and I got quite OCD about things like that.

“I didn’t want to be in busy environments where there were a lot of people.”

With the phobia “stopping him from living his life” Brothwick got to the point where he learnt to deal with it, despite never seeing himself get over the phobia completely.

He added: “I will never ever be OK about being sick ever, but I just get to a point where I cope with it, and just deal with it the best way I can.

“I can understand it now. I’ve got a bag of tools I can use to manage it and understand there are going to be times when I’m not going to be in the environment where I want to be all the time.

“I suppose I learnt to manage it the best way I could at the time, and I am going back five or six years ago now.

“I was just really selfish and I wouldn’t put myself in a situation that would make me feel unsafe.”

Charity Anxiety UK explains that emetophobia is a “fear of vomiting or seeing others being sick”. The charity goes on to say that those who experience emetophobia may also fear being out of control while they are being sick or fear being sick in public, which can trigger avoidance behaviours.

Although it is a condition that is not widely diagnosed, it is a fairly prevalent anxiety disorder and can “enormously” affect an individual’s life, as Brothwick has first-hand experience of.

For example, some people may be unable to leave home if there are any tummy bugs going around and they will avoid family and friends who have an illness.

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When examining why a phobia begins in the first place, the NHS states that there is no single cause, but a number of associated factors. A phobia may be associated with a particular incident or trauma or could be a learned response that a person develops early in life from a parent or sibling.

Genetics may also play a role as there is evidence to suggest that some people are born with a tendency to be more anxious than others.

The NHS notes that there are two specific types of phobia: specific or simple phobias or complex phobias. The former centre around a particular object, situation or activity and are often first developed during childhood. The latter tends to be more debilitating and is associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance.

Common examples of simple phobias include:

  • Animal phobias – such as dogs, spiders, snakes or rodents
  • Environmental phobias – such as heights, deep water and germs
  • Situational phobias – such as visiting the dentist or flying
  • Bodily phobias – such as blood, vomit or having injections
  • Sexual phobias – such as performance anxiety or the fear of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Whereas the most common complex phobias tend to be agoraphobia – a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, and social phobia – an overwhelming fear of social situations.

For those whose lives become increasingly difficult as a result of the phobia, treatment from an expert in behavioural therapy might be needed to help them cope.

When help is sought, most phobias can be treated and cured. For simple phobias, gradual exposure of the trigger object, animal, place or situation can help to desensitise you. For complex phobias, treatment such as counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be needed to change the way an individual thinks and behaves.

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