What is a Phobia?

With Hallowe’en around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to do some looking into Phobias.

• What is a phobia?
• Phobia Categories
• Symptoms
• Causes
• What can you do?

What is a phobia?

In short “A phobia is an exaggerated and irrational fear.”

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience extreme, irrational fear about a situation, living creature, place, or object.

When a person has a phobia, they will often shape their lives to avoid what they consider to be dangerous. The imagined threat is greater than any actual threat posed by the cause of terror.

Phobias are divided into three main categories:

• Specific phobias: A specific phobia involves an irrational, persistent fear of a specific object or situation that’s out of proportion to the actual risk. This includes a fear of situations (such as airplanes or enclosed spaces); nature (such as thunderstorms or heights); animals or insects (such as dogs or spiders); blood, injection or injury (such as knives or medical procedures); or other phobias (such as loud noises or clowns). There are many other types of specific phobias.

• Social phobia: More than just shyness, the social phobia involves a combination of excessive self-consciousness and a fear of public scrutiny or humiliation in common social situations. In social situations, the person fears being rejected or negatively evaluated or fears offending others.

• Fear of open spaces (agoraphobia): This is a fear of an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside the home alone. The anxiety is caused by fearing no easy means of escape or help if intense anxiety develops. Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to fear another attack and avoid the place where it occurred.
For some people, agoraphobia may be so severe that they’re unable to leave home.


A person with a phobia will experience the following symptoms. They are common across the majority of phobias:

• a sensation of uncontrollable anxiety when exposed to the source of fear
• a feeling that the source of that fear must be avoided at all costs
• not being able to function properly when exposed to the trigger
• acknowledgement that the fear is irrational, unreasonable, and exaggerated, combined with an inability to control the feelings

A person is likely to experience feelings of panic and intense anxiety when exposed to the object of their phobia.

The physical effects of these sensations can include:
• sweating
• abnormal breathing
• accelerated heartbeat
• trembling
• hot flushes or chills
• a choking sensation
• chest pains or tightness
• butterflies in the stomach
• pins and needles
• dry mouth
• confusion and disorientation
• nausea
• dizziness
• headache

A feeling of anxiety can be produced simply by thinking about the object of the phobia.


It is unusual for a phobia to start after the age of 30 years, and most begin during early childhood, the teenage years, or early adulthood.
They can be caused by a stressful experience, a frightening event, or a parent or household member with a phobia that a child can ‘learn.’

Factors that may increase the likelihood that a phobia will develop include:

• Genetics: Research has shown that certain phobias may run in families.

• Cultural Factors: Some phobias occur only in certain cultural groups. An example is Taijin Kyofusho, a social phobia that appears almost exclusively in Japan. This is a fear of offending or harming others in social situations.

• Life Experience: Many phobias are based on real-life events that may or may not be consciously remembered. A phobia of dogs, for example, may stem from being attacked as a small child. Social phobia may develop from teenage awkwardness or childhood bullying.

It is likely that a combination of these factors must be in place for a phobia to develop. However, more research is necessary before a definitive conclusion can be reached.

What can you do?

Phobias are highly treatable, and people who have them are nearly always aware of their disorder. This helps the diagnosis a great deal.

Speaking to a Doctor, Mind Coach, Hypnotherapist or Psychologist is a useful first step in treating a phobia that has already been identified.
If the phobia does not cause severe problems, most people find that simply avoiding the source of their fear helps them stay in control.
Many people with specific phobias will not seek treatment as these fears are often manageable.

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