10 Of The Most Common Phobias, Explained

by | Apr 10, 2023 | Mental Health

By Nikolina Ilic

Did you know there are more than 500 recognised phobias? Ranging from super common to incredibly rare, and from NBD to deadly serious, they’re more common than we think: according to Australasian Psychology Services, specific phobias are thought to affect around 11 per cent of the Aussie population. In South Africa, the biggest animal phobia is arachnophobia or the fear of spiders.

“Approximately one-quarter of the population have one or more phobias, with the number one fear being glossophobia: fear of public speaking, which affects up to 75% of the population,” explains Mark Stephens, lifestyle hypnotherapist and phobia specialist. “Phobias can develop at any time of your life, but will often start when you’re a child and can be triggered by a single traumatic event or a series of events that induce fear.”

The most common phobias:

  1. Trypanophobia: Fear of needles
  2. Mysophobia: Fear of germs
  3. Coulrophobia: fear of clowns
  4. Catoptrophobia: Fear of mirrors
  5. Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking
  6. Leptophobia: Fear of losing weight/ being skinny
  7. Hadephobia: Fear of going to hell
  8. Decidophobia: Fear of making decisions
  9. Pteronophobia: Fear of being tickled by feathers
  10. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia: a fear of long words

Phobias: Everything you need to know

What is a phobia?

A phobia is a concern or fear about certain situations or activities, like animals and objects. Fear is a rational response in certain situations, however, some people react to objects, activities or situations (the phobic stimulus) by imagining or irrationally exaggerating the danger, resulting in panic, fear or terror that is out of proportion to the actual threat. Sometimes, even the thought of, or simply seeing the phobic stimulus on television, is enough to cause a reaction. These types of excessive reactions may be indicative of a Specific Phobia.

What happens when I have a phobia?

People with phobias are often well aware that their fears are exaggerated or irrational, but feel that their anxious reaction is automatic or they are not able to control it. When exposed to the phobic stimulus, anxiety can reach excessive levels. Specific Phobias are often associated with panic attacks, during which the person experiences and is overwhelmed by physical sensations that may include a pounding heart, choking, nausea, faintness, dizziness, chest pain, hot or cold flushes and perspiration.

How do I know if I have one?

A person may have a phobia if they:

  • Have a persistent fear that is excessive and unreasonable in relation to a specific object, activity or situation, such as heights, seeing blood or encountering a dog. Adults will be able to recognise that the fear is excessive; children with Specific Phobias may not be able to.
  • Avoids situations in which they may have to face the phobic stimulus, for example not walking down a street where there may be a dog or refusing to go further than the ground floor of a building. If the situation is unavoidable, it is endured with distress.
  • Finds that the anxiety or avoidance associated with such situations makes it difficult to go about daily life (for example, working, studying or seeing friends and family).

What are the main categories?

  • Specific Phobias are generally divided into the following categories:
  • Animal type: fear that relates to animal or insects (e.g. fear of dogs or spiders).
  • Natural-Environment type: a fear associated with the natural environment (e.g. fear of thunder or heights).
  • Blood-Injection-Injury type: A fear associated with invasive medical procedures (e.g. injections), or by seeing blood or injury.
  • Situational Type: a fear of specific situations (e.g. elevators, bridges or driving).
  • Other: Any other Specific Phobias (e.g. fear of choking or fear of vomiting).

What causes phobias?

Several factors are likely to increase a person’s risk of developing a Specific Phobia. These include:

A family history of mental health problems:

  • A predisposition to anxiety may be passed down from a parent with a mental illness. Research has shown that children of moderately to severely depressed parents are up to three times more likely to have an anxiety disorder, and specifically a phobia, than children of non-depressed parents.
  • Traumatic experiences: someone who has, for example, witnessed or experienced a traumatic event (e.g. being bitten by an animal or trapped somewhere like a cupboard) may feel extremely fearful of situations or objects associated with the event afterwards. By avoiding these, even when they are in a non-threatening situation, they may develop a phobia.

What treatments are available?

Phobias are treatable and seeking professional help is the first step towards recovery. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the most commonly- used therapy for people with Specific Phobias and can be conducted either in group sessions or individually. Cognitive behaviour therapists work closely with people to develop a shared understanding of their thinking and behavioural difficulties. Therapists will help people to uncover unhelpful and unrealistic ways of thinking (e.g. “I will be trapped. Medication is also available, like antidepressants, however, there has been no clear indications of efficacy in using medication have been found in treating phobias.

This article was first published in womenshealthmag.com.au

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