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What are Phobias?
A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.
Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.
If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that's causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress.
A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. You may not experience any symptoms until you come into contact with the source of your phobia.
However, in some cases, even thinking about the source of a phobia can make a person feel anxious or panicky. This is known as anticipatory anxiety.
If you don't come into contact with the source of your phobia very often, it may not affect your everyday life.
There are a wide variety of objects or situations that someone could develop a phobia about. However, phobias can be divided into two main categories:
- Specific or simple phobias
- Complex phobias
Specific or simple phobias
Specific or simple phobias centre around a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They often develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older.
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
Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias. They tend to develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance.
The two most common complex phobias are:
- Social phobia
Agoraphobia is often thought of as a fear of open spaces, but it's much more complex than this. Someone with agoraphobia will feel anxious about being in a place or situation where escaping may be difficult if they have a panic attack.
Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, centres around feeling anxious in social situations. If you have a social phobia, you might be afraid of speaking in front of people for fear of embarrassing yourself and being humiliated in public. In severe cases, this can become debilitating and may prevent you from carrying out everyday activities, such as eating out or meeting friends.
How common are phobias?
Phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder.
They can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex and social background. Some of the most common phobias include:
- Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
- Claustrophobia – fear of confined spaces
- Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces and public places
- Social phobia – fear of social situations
Who can help?
If you have a phobia, you should seek help from your GP. They may refer you to a specialist with expertise in behavioural therapy, such as a psychologist. Or you can refer yourself to a service that helps with Mental Health Challenges.