“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that describes an excessive and irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation. Phobias involve intense fear surrounding an object or situation that poses little or no real danger. They are different from common concerns in that the associated anxiety is so severe it interferes with daily life and the ability to function normally. People suffering from phobias may go to extreme lengths to avoid encountering or experiencing the feared object or situation.
Though many phobias realise that their worry is unrealistic or unwarranted, feelings of fear and anxiety persist and seem unmanageable, leaving sufferers feeling out of control.
Duration: at least six months
Types of phobias
The American Psychiatric Association identifies three types of phobias:
Specific Phobia: Going to extreme lengths to avoid an activity or object because of fear of danger or harm.
Examples: Fear of heights, snakes, spiders
Social Phobia: A fear of being humiliated or underperforming in social situations. Also known as a social anxiety disorder.
Examples: Fear of public speaking, public restrooms, eating in front of others
Agoraphobia: Feeling discomfort in situations where escape is harrowing or help is not readily available.
Examples: Fear of leaving the house, public transportation, small spaces
A few of the most common specific phobias include:
Arachnophobia: fear of spiders
Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes
Acrophobia: fear of heights
Cynophobia: fear of dogs
Astraphobia: Fear of thunder and lightning
Trypophobia: fear of holes
Aerophobia: fear of flying
Xenophobia: fear of the unknown or unfamiliar (such as foreigners)
Claustrophobia: fear of small spaces
Glossophobia: fear of public speaking
Emetophobia: fear of vomiting
Symptoms of phobias are similar to those of a panic attack. When faced with the specific object, activity, or situation that is the subject of intense fear, an individual with a phobia may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, dread, and panic
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Trembling, shaking
- Abdominal discomfort
- Tightening of the chest and sensations of choking
- Nausea and dizziness
- Hot or cold flashes
- An overwhelming desire to escape
Most phobias develop in childhood and are commonly passed down by a family member. However, the leading cause of phobias is still unknown. Frequent causes of phobias include:
- Traumatic experience involving an object of fear
- Experiencing a panic attack in a specific situation or around an object
- Witnessing someone else being harmed by particular activity or object
- Hearing a tragic story involving a particular activity or object
Having phobias and fears is common and often rational. However, if these fears begin to interfere with daily life, consult with a doctor. For example, a phobia of driving on the freeway should not be so intense that it keeps a person going to work or school.