I am just about to go off to university. In the past few years I have developed a complete phobia of vomiting, which has taken over my life. Just the thought of being sick makes me panic and it’s sometimes a huge effort to go to school because it’s always in the back of my mind. I like studying but rarely spend time with anyone outside of school as I’m petrified of catching a bug from them. 
My parents are supportive, but don’t know what to suggest. Please help.

Let me reassure you this is a problem that other people have so you’re not alone. You’ve probably developed emetophobia, which is basically a fear of vomiting. It’s usually linked to an earlier experience of illness in your life that caused you to feel deep anxiety and stress. I suspect the root cause is your fear of losing control in front of others, believing that this will lead to some kind of catastrophe. I’m sure that the logical part of your brain – and your parents – are reassuring you this won’t happen, but phobias and panic disorder bypass this logic centre, and when you feel under threat or stressed, your anxiety becomes overwhelming.

It’s absolutely vital you get help with this. You have a golden opportunity to start afresh, make new friends and really broaden your horizons and your prospects. People who suffer from anxiety-based phobias such as yours should take the time to plan ahead when they know a big change is looming, in order to minimise the chances of their phobia destabilising them in the process. There are a number of strategies to help you do this.

Make sure your doctor is aware of your issues, but also look into getting some specialist therapy that can help you to manage your anxiety-inducing thoughts.

There is also a lot you can do to help yourself gain conficence so you cope better when things get stressful.

You could challenge yourself to identify something that causes you to feel mild to medium anxiety and set yourself some goals in relation to it. Many emetophobes have regular protective behaviours such as checking sell-by dates, washing their hands more than necessary, or keeping friends very much at arm’s length. Perhaps you could gently take some steps towards changing this particular issue?

Arrange to meet a friend at a local park for a short space of time and after you’ve done this a few times and begin to feel comfortable, take it a step further and invite them home. It’s only by setting yourself manageable and achievable targets that you will grow in confidence.