Most Common Phobias: How & When To Seek Support

Phobias bring about a fear reaction that is disproportionate to the threat posed by the feared object or situation. Phobias can develop at any point in life and causes can vary greatly, thus its not always clear to identify the signs of developing a phobia.

In this article, we’re going to look at phobias in more detail and discuss some of the most common phobias and how to spot them, as well as treatment options and where to find help.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is defined as an irrational yet overwhelming and intense fear of something. Phobias tend to be unrealistic in nature and can be very severe, to the point where you start to alter your life and your natural day to day activities to avoid the feared object or situation.

You can have a phobia of anything – be it a place, object, animal, feeling, or a specific situation. Depending on what it is, you might go out of your way to avoid it, and this can mean your life gets disrupted in several ways.

Phobias are anxiety disorders and are distinct from fears. Fear is a natural response to something you perceive as a threat, but it’s only triggered when you’re in that situation. With a phobia, you have an irrational fear and may think about it frequently, even when you’re not in that situation.

There are two types of phobias: specific/simple phobias and complex phobias. Simple or specific phobias are phobias of a specific object, and these tend to develop in childhood and may get better over time. Common simple phobias include things like a phobia of an animal, heights, or flying.

Complex phobias are often more serious in nature and tend to develop in adulthood. They relate more to situations or circumstances, with common complex phobias being agoraphobia or social phobia.

What causes phobias?

How a phobia presents can vary significantly from one person to another. Generally speaking, most phobias stem from a specific incident or experience. For example, if you were attacked by a dog at a young age, you might develop a phobia of dogs. However, some phobias can be learned from observing other people. If you saw your sibling screaming and running away every time they saw a spider, you might then learn that spiders are scary and follow suit.

Sometimes, genetics can influence phobias. It’s widely accepted that some people are more prone to anxiety than others based on their genes, so this could be an influencing factor in the likelihood of you developing a phobia.

Most common types of phobias

Phobias come in many forms. Lots of people have irrational fears and phobias, with some of the most common phobias being those listed below:

Social phobia

Social phobia is one of the most common phobias in the UK. It’s also known as social anxiety disorder and tends to start when a person enters their teenage years, although it can start earlier or later. Social phobia is when a person has overwhelming fears, concerns, and unease over social situations. It varies in severity, but at its worst, it can cause serious disruption and problems in one’s life.

Symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Worrying or feeling anxious about everyday social interactions like talking on the phone or going to the shops
  • Avoiding or excessively worrying about social situations like parties or gatherings
  • Worrying about embarrassing yourself or blushing
  • Feeling like everyone is judging you
  • Worrying about receiving criticism
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Having panic attacks
  • Shaking, feeling sick, or having palpitations in social situations

 

It’s not uncommon for people with social phobia to experience other common mental health difficulties, such as generalised anxiety disorder or depression, although this isn’t always the case.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a common phobia that involves being afraid to be in situations where you might not be able to easily access an exit, or where you might struggle to find help if you need it. Agoraphobia can occur in many different settings, such as in a busy shopping centre or at a market or event, meaning people with this phobia often find that they’re unable to participate in a range of activities without feeling anxious.

Physical symptoms of agoraphobia include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Tinnitus
  • Shaking
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Getting hot or sweaty
  • Diarrhoea
  • Worrying that you’ll embarrass yourself
  • Feeling general dread or anxiety

 

Many people with agoraphobia may rely on someone they trust to be with them when they go out, and this can cause a range of other problems, such as becoming reliant on someone or something to make them feel safe. This can result in a sense of not feeling like they can cope alone.

Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is the fear of small or confined spaces, such as in lifts, trains, toilet cubicles, tunnels, or the back of a car. Approximately 10% of the UK population experiences claustrophobia.

When in a confined space, people with claustrophobia will experience symptoms similar to a panic attack, coupled with a general feeling of dread or loss of control. This can cause them to avoid small spaces altogether, but this can not only reinforce the phobia, but it can have an impact on their ability to do everyday tasks, such as go shopping or go to a concert.

Arachnophobia

Arachnophobia is the intense fear of spiders and arachnids. You may experience panic attack-like symptoms if confronted with a spider, even if the threat posed by the spider is little to none. You might also go out of your way to completely avoid the possibility of running into one, such as not sitting outdoors on grass and avoiding hikes or picnics. You might also even have difficulties around the time of Halloween if people are dressed as spiders.

This phobia tends to be a learned fear from observing how other people react to spiders early on, but it can also be triggered by a negative experience with a spider, such as being bitten.

Emetophobia

Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. People with this phobia have an irrational fear of being sick, feeling sick, looking at vomit, seeing other people vomit, or hearing people be sick. Because vomiting can occur for a range of reasons, such as through food poisoning, being hungover, or catching a bug, many people with emetophobia will avoid certain situations. For example, if they know there is a stomach bug going around, they might choose to stay indoors, or they might only eat food they have cooked.

If triggered, an anxious or panic response might occur, such as sweating, having palpitations, and feeling like you have no control over the situation. To prevent this, some people engage in extreme avoidant behaviours to try and avoid being or getting sick, and this can take a toll on their social lives.

Amaxophobia

Amaxophobia is the phobia of driving or being a passenger in a vehicle. It’s a common fear amongst a lot of people, especially those who are new to driving or who have previously been in or witnessed an accident. Like other phobias, the symptoms of amaxophobia can present themselves in the form of panic attacks, including a ‘jelly legs’ sensation.

Amaxophobia can be particularly difficult to live with depending on where you live and how you need to get around. If you don’t live in a walkable city and need to commute to work or to get to the shops or socialise, it can prevent you from doing those things and potentially stop you from leaving your home.

Aerophobia

Aerophobia is the fear of travelling in an aeroplane. Like amaxophobia, this phobia can stop you from doing things like going on holiday or going on work trips due to intense anxiety and panic attacks. This is a very common fear that lots of people have.

Acrophobia

Acrophobia is one of the most common phobias of all and is the extreme fear of heights. It causes very common anxiety symptoms if a person with this phobia finds themselves unusually high up, and can lead to avoidant tendencies. For example, if you have acrophobia, you might be limited to living in ground floor apartments or buildings. You may also struggle to work a job that is on an upper level of a building, or avoid taking part in activities like hiking.

When you find yourself at height, you might feel overwhelmed, panicky, and without clarity of mind.

Aquaphobia

Aquaphobia is the phobia of water, but not necessarily just swimming. People with aquaphobia may also be irrationally scared of things like baths and showers, or even bottles of water. Seeing a large body of water, such as a lake, the sea, or a swimming pool, or even just thinking about water, can invoke a strong sense of panic and cause a person to be short of breath, have palpitations, and become shaky.

How are phobias treated?

The way in which phobias are treated depends on the phobia and the person, as well as the severity of the phobia. For a lot of phobias, exposure therapy is one of the most effective forms of treatment. This involves intentionally being confronted with the source of the phobia in a gradual way that feels manageable for the patient. For example, if you have arachnophobia, you may find that the best way to deal with it is to be exposed to spiders through a graded system that is guided by you, e.g., you may choose to begin with looking at cartoon spiders to begin with.

The goal of exposure therapy is to show you that the source of your phobia isn’t necessarily harmful or threatening. By exposing yourself to the feared situation (and not avoiding it), your internal threat system will realise that, in fact, you are safe and the fear response will automatically begin to dissipate, getting easier as the exposure is repeated. In therapy, this process is called habituation. In the case of arachnophobia, most spiders are unable to hurt you or inflict damage, pain or illness, so being scared of them all is irrational. The more time you spend around spiders, the more you realise they’re not a risk and you can cope, and therefore you’re able to overcome your phobia.

Exposure therapy is part of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) treatment for phobias; the therapist will spend a few sessions getting to know you and understanding your difficulties and goals, before you move onto to learning about the process of exposure and habituation, moving into exposure therapy once you’re ready.

When should you seek help for a phobia?

If you are suffering from one of the most common types of phobias, you will most likely know that you have one due to your behaviour and the way in which you might modify your life or behaviour to accommodate it. If you notice that you’re behaving differently, engaging in avoidant behaviours, missing out on things, or not being able to enjoy life due to anxiety and fear around a specific thing, this is a sign that you need to seek help from a mental health professional.

You can speak to your GP to get a referral to a behavioural therapy specialist, you can self refer, or you can arrange for private therapy.

Phobia support and treatment at Psymplicity Healthcare

At Psymplicity Healthcare, we offer private treatment for phobias and anxiety disorders. Our team of specialists are experts in their field and we have helped countless people successfully overcome their phobias and regain control of their life.

If you have a phobia and would like to find out more about how we can help you, please contact us.

Mavish Sikander

Mavish Sikander

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity.

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