A phobia is an irrational or extreme fear of an object, situation, or setting. Whether anticipated or encountered in person, phobias trigger an emotional response of anxiety, panic, and excessive fear. Due to these unpleasant responses, a person will do everything in their power to avoid their phobia.
At their worst, phobias can lead to serious issues such as severe anxiety and depression. This stress may in turn lead to physical problems such as chronic pain, ADHD, sleep disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
When exposed to a phobia, a person’s overwhelming feelings of anxiety may lead to a panic attack. Some of the physical symptoms of a panic attack, which may be associated to a phobia, include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry mouth
- Rapid heartbeat
Classification of phobias
Phobias are classified as an anxiety disorder, which is the most common type of mental disorder. Together, disorders related to phobias affect approximately 36 million adults in the United States, which is nearly 20% of the population.1 Disorders related to phobias are classified into 3 different categories:
- Specific phobias – Excessive fear and anxiety related to a specific object, animal, or situation
- Agoraphobia – Excessive fear and anxiety about being in an unfamiliar environment such as wide-open spaces or crowds.
- Social phobias – Excessive fear and anxiety about social interactions and the possibility of being scrutinized
In determining whether you have one of these types of phobias, it’s important to remember that they go beyond our normal fear response. For instance, you may feel tremendous fear if you are hiking in the woods and see a bear. This is a normal, rational reaction that is part of the body’s fight-or-flight response.
A phobia, on the other hand, is an irrational fear that creates anxiety. For example, you may be deathly afraid of dogs and try to avoid them at all costs. The rational reality, however, is that a large majority of dogs aren’t going to harm you in any way.
In addition to causing excessive, unreasonable fear and anxiety, there are a few other requirements for a condition to be diagnosed as a phobia. According to the American Psychiatric Association, phobia symptoms must be experienced for 6 months or longer, be life-limiting, cause avoidance or extreme distress, and must not be caused by another disorder.2
What are the most common phobias in the world?
Experts have identified dozens of phobias. The list includes weird and absurd phobias such as fear of colors and fear of beards, as well as more understandable phobias such as fear of the dentist or fear of illness. The following are routinely identified as the most common phobias people deal with.
Triskaidekaphobia is a fear of the number 13. In Western culture, this number is considered so unlucky that buildings will skip it when identifying their floors so that there is no floor 13. Roughly 10% of Americans are superstitious about the number 13, and some of these people have an excessive fear of this number. Friday the 13th is considered especially unlucky, so much so that some people will refuse to get out of the house or even get out of bed on these days.3
Claustrophobia is a fear of being in enclosed areas. If you routinely experience severe anxiety or have a panic attack while in a crowded room or in a small enclosed space, you may have this phobia. Other specific signs of claustrophobia include checking for or standing near exits, avoiding elevators, and avoiding heavy traffic. If the claustrophobia is severe, merely closing a door to a room you are in will trigger feelings of panic.
It’s estimated that about 5% of the population suffers from acrophobia,4 which is defined as a severe fear of heights. A certain amount of fear when being up high is normal and natural, but an acrophobic has an unrealistic fear of heights. Even standing on a short ladder or being on a high floor in an office building may cause severe anxiety for a person who suffers from acrophobia. Feeling dizzy or freezing up are two common symptoms of acrophobia. An unpleasant feeling of spinning known as vertigo is also a symptom of this disorder.
Most kids are afraid of the dark, but many adults are too! In fact, about 11% of the population suffers from an extreme fear of the dark, sometimes known as nyctophobia.5 This phobia is commonly associated with poor sleep. Other symptoms include nausea, dry mouth, and breathlessness. Along with fear of simply not being able to see, a nyctophobe often has a persistent fear that something bad will happen to them in the dark.
Cynophobia is an extreme fear of dogs. This phobia may be more common than you think, as it affects roughly 5% of the population.6 Cynophobia is often the result of a traumatic encounter with a dog during childhood. The sufferer may have been chased or bitten by a dog as a child, and an extreme anxiety and fear of dogs persists from the incident. Like other animal-related phobias, a fear of dogs is more often experienced by females.
If you have an extreme, irrational fear of thunder and lighting, you may be stricken with the condition known as astraphobia. An astraphobe often watches the weather report and may go to extreme degrees to change their plans if there is a storm coming. When exposed to lightning and thunder, an astraphobe may hide or curl up in a ball. Chest pain and sweaty palms are common symptoms when these individuals are exposed to lighting and thunder. Research indicates that astraphobia is the third most common phobia.7 Many dogs and cats have this phobia as well.
A fear of flying in planes, helicopters, or other airborne vehicles is known as aerophobia. This phobia may be related to claustrophobia and acrophobia, as it involves being in an enclosed space as well as being up high. It’s estimated that as many as 25% of those who fly have this phobia.8 Symptoms of aerophobia include disorientation, dizziness, and extreme anxiety.
People who suffer from mysophobia, also known as germaphobia, have an excessive fear about germs, bacteria, uncleanliness, and infection. Avoiding contact with others, obsessively washing your hands, and spending excessive time cleaning are all signs of mysophobia. Those who have obsessive-compulsive order (OCD) are more likely to develop this disorder. If you find that you feel excessive anxiety about germs and it negatively affects your quality of life, consider seeking the assistance of a mental health professional.
It is estimated that nearly 1% of adult Americans suffer from agoraphobia.9 Classified in its own category of phobias, this type of anxiety disorder causes a person to panic when exposed to certain places or situations in which they feel they have no control and where escape may be difficult. Symptoms of agoraphobia may include the following:
- A fear of crowds
- A fear of leaving home alone
- A fear of open spaces
- A fear of public transportation
- A fear of enclosed spaces (i.e., claustrophobia)
In addition to claustrophobia, the fear of being alone, or monophobia, is a common type of agoraphobia.
Several movies over the years have played on our common fear of spiders. Spiders may be scary and disgusting to most people, but an arachnophobe will have a highly exaggerated and panicked response when encountering even the smallest of these 8-legged creatures. If you are so afraid of spiders that you avoid going to places where you feel they may be present or have to leave the house when you see one, you may be one of the roughly 5% of people that have this common phobia.10
Trypanophobia is a fear of needles used in medical procedures like injections or giving blood. This common phobia is also associated with a fear of other medical procedures as well. The fear and anxiety of needles may be so bad that a person will avoid seeking the medical care that they need from a doctor or a dentist. It is estimated that 10% of Americans may suffer from this disorder.11 It’s important for these people to seek the help of a mental health professional if the phobia is preventing them from getting the care they need.
Known as ophiophobia, an intense and irrational fear of snakes is experienced by about 1/3 of the adult population.12 Similar to exposing our common fear of spiders, many movies and shows have played on the common fear of snakes as well. Research also shows that like spiders, humans have evolved to naturally sense and fear snakes.13 But it isn’t until this fear becomes extreme and irrational that a phobia develops.
Social phobias, known medically as social anxiety disorder, can be just as terrifying as a specific phobia such as fear of snakes. In fact, social phobias can cause significant health problems that are often more difficult to deal with and treat than a specific phobia. Social phobias go beyond merely being “shy.” Instead, they involve a constant fear and anxiety that the person is being watched and judged by others. Other symptoms of social phobias include:
- Avoidance of social settings
- Extreme performance anxiety, such as speaking in public
- Fear or interacting with strangers
- Worrying about embarrassing yourself
- Anxiety from anticipating a feared event or activity
- Excessively analyzing your social interactions
Phobias are highly treatable, and there are a variety of different methods available to help people overcome them. Speaking to a mental health professional is often the first step. A psychiatrist or psychologist may recommend cognitive-behavior treatment (CBT), medication, or a combination of both to treat a phobia.
Other popular treatments for phobias include flooding, counter-conditioning, and modeling. Flooding involves full exposure to the phobia until the anxiety passes, while counter-conditioning exposes the individual to the phobia gradually over time. Modeling, on the other hand, is a passive treatment that involves watching other people confront the phobia without harm.
Another option is to use EVOX perception reframing to work through a phobia. Through voice-mapping and a patented feedback process, you can successfully shift your perception about a phobia to create a healthier, more functional relationship to the things you are afraid of.
1. “Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Adaa.org.
2. “Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
3. “Triskaidekaphobia.” Triskaidekaphobia – Fear of the number thirteen.info. Triskaidekaphobia.info.
4. Black, Rosemary. “Acrophobia (The Fear of Heights): Are You Acrophobic?” Remedy Health Media, LLC.
5. Miller, Karin. “It’s Not Just You: Lots of Adults Are Afraid Of the Dark.” Conde Nast. Glamour.com.
6. Abboud, Patrick. “Cynophobia: The Crippling Fear of Dogs Affecting 1 in 20 People.” SBS. Sbs.com.au.
7. “Astraphobia.” Wikipedia. En.wikipedia.org.
8. Olesen, Jacob. “Fear of Flying Phobia – Aerophobia.” FEAROF. Fearof.net.
9. McIntosh, James. “What you need to know about agoraphobia.” Healthline Media UK Ltd. Medicalnewstoday.com.
10. Schmitt, W.J. & R.M. Muri. “Neurobiologie der Spinnenphobie.” Schweizer Archiv fur Neurologie und Psychiatrie 160, no. 8 (2009): 352-355.
11. “Trypanophobia – Fear of Needles.” American Addiction Centers, Inc. Luxury.rehabs.com.
12. Ceriaco, L.M.P. “Human attitudes towards herpetofauna: The influence of folklore and negative values on the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Portugal.” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 8, no. 8 (2012).
13. Moskowitz, Clara. “Why We Fear Snakes.” Future US, Inc. Livescience.com.