A phobia is an excessive and irrational fear reaction. If you
have a phobia, you may experience a deep sense of dread or panic when you
encounter the source of your fear. The fear can be of a certain place,
situation, or object. Unlike general anxiety disorders, a phobia is usually
connected to something specific.
The impact of a phobia can range from annoying to severely
disabling. People with phobias often realize their fear is irrational, but they’re
unable to do anything about it. Such fears can interfere with your work,
school, and personal relationships.
An estimated 19 million
Americans have a phobia that causes difficulty in some area of their lives.
Seek the help of your doctor if you have a fear that prevents you from leading
a normal life.
Genetic and environmental factors can cause phobias. Children who
have a close relative with an anxiety disorder are at risk for developing a
phobia. Distressing events such as nearly drowning can bring on a phobia.
Exposure to confined spaces, extreme heights, and animal or insect bites can
all be sources of phobias.
People with ongoing medical conditions or health concerns often
have phobias. There is a high incidence of people developing phobias after
traumatic brain injuries. Substance abuse and depression are also connected to
Types of Phobias
The American Psychiatric Association recognizes more than 100
different phobias. Here are a few of the most common.
Agoraphiobia is a fear of places or situations that you can’t
escape from. The word itself refers to “fear of open spaces.” People with
agoraphobia fear being in large crowds or trapped outside the home. They often
avoid social situations altogether and stay inside their homes.
Many people with agoraphobia fear they may have a panic attack in
a place where they can’t escape. Those with chronic health problems may fear
they will have a medical emergency in a public area or where no help is
Social phobia is also referred to as “social anxiety disorder.”
This is extreme worry about social situations that can lead to self-isolation.
A social phobia can be so severe that the simplest interactions, such as
ordering at a restaurant or answering the telephone, can cause panic. Those
with social phobia will often go out of their way to avoid public situations.
Many people dislike certain situations or objects, but to be a
true phobia, the fear must interfere with your daily life. Some of the most
common include the following.
Glossophobia: Performance anxiety, or the fear of
speaking in front of an audience. People with this phobia have severe physical
symptoms when they even think about being in front of a group of people.
Acrophobia: The fear of heights. People with this
phobia will avoid mountains, bridges, or the higher floors of buildings.
Symptoms include vertigo, dizziness, sweating, and feeling as if you’ll pass
out or lose consciousness.
Claustrophobia: The fear of enclosed or tight spaces.
Severe claustrophobia can be especially disabling if it prevents you from
riding in cars or elevators.
Aviatophobia: The fear of flying.
Dentophobia: Fear of the dentist or dental
procedures. This phobia generally develops after an unpleasant experience at a
dentist’s office. It can be harmful if it prevents you from obtaining needed
Hemophobia: Fear of blood or injury. A person with
hemophobia may faint when they come in contact with their own or another
Arachnophobia: Fear of
Cynophobia: Fear of
Ophidiophobia: Fear of
Nyctophobia: Fear of the nighttime or darkness. This
phobia almost always begins as a typical childhood fear. When it progresses
past adolescence, it’s considered a phobia.
Is at Risk for Phobias?
Those with a genetic predisposition to anxiety may be at a high
risk for developing phobias. Age, socioeconomic status, and gender only seem to
be risk factors for certain phobias. For example, women are more likely to have
animal phobias. Children or people with a low socioeconomic status are more
likely have social phobias. Men make up the majority of those with dentist and
Are the Symptoms of Phobias?
The most common and disabling symptom of a phobia is a panic
attack. Features of a panic attack include:
- pounding or racing heart
- shortness of breath
- rapid speech or inability to speak
- dry mouth
- upset stomach or nausea
- elevated blood pressure
- trembling or shaking
- chest pain or tightness
- choking sensation
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- profuse sweating
- sense of impending doom
A person with a phobia doesn’t have to have panic attacks for
Treatment for phobias can involve therapeutic techniques,
medications, or a combination of both.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used therapeutic
treatment for phobias. CBT involves exposure to the source of the fear, but in
a controlled setting. This treatment can decondition people and reduce anxiety.
The therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative
thoughts, dysfunctional beliefs, and negative reactions to fear. New CBT
techniques use virtual reality technology to safely expose people to the sources
of their phobias.
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help calm both
emotional and physical reactions to fear. Often, the combination of medication
and professional therapy makes the biggest difference.
If you have a phobia, it’s critical that you seek treatment. Overcoming
phobias can be difficult, but there’s hope. With the right treatment, you can
learn to manage your fears and lead a productive, fulfilling life.