Fear is a normal, healthy response to a threat. It can help us prepare for and react to potentially dangerous situations to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. However, when intense, debilitating fear occurs in reaction to a specific stimulus that may be frequently encountered in daily life, it could signify the presence of a clinical phobia. See below for more information on what a phobia is, a list of ten common phobias, and treatment options for this type of disorder.
What Is A Phobia?
Symptoms that a person may experience when faced with the object of their phobia can include the following, leading them to avoid situations involving the trigger:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling faint or actually fainting
- Sweating or chills
- Trouble breathing
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Dry mouth
Specific phobias are estimated to affect 12.5% of US adults at some point in their lives. Of these, 21.9% will experience “severe impairment” as a result of their symptoms. Effective treatment for phobias is available; we’ll discuss this in more detail below.
10 Common Phobias
The object of an individual's phobia can vary widely, but there are several that are more common than others. We’ll list and give a brief overview of these below.
Arachnophobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of spiders. Someone who has arachnophobia may experience emotional and physical distress at the sight or even the thought of a spider. Arachnophobia can cause an individual to go to extreme measures to avoid encountering spiders, including staying away from spaces where they may be, avoiding outdoor activities, cleaning excessively, and leaving the room if one appears. Animal-based fears are the most prevalent forms of specific phobias, and arachnophobia is one of the most common within that subset.
Ophidiophobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of snakes. In extreme cases, people who have this fear may have difficulty going outside at all for fear of encountering one. They might avoid going hiking, picnicking, visiting the zoo, or even walking in their backyard or a park for fear of coming across a snake. They may also become fearful when they think they hear a snake or see objects that look like snakes.
Acrophobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of heights. Those who experience acrophobia may not need to be high in the air to feel fear; some experience intense anxiety even when they’re a few feet off the ground. Triggers could even include activities like using a ladder, climbing stairs, or being in a building on any floor above the ground. For those who experience this type of phobia, just the thought of engaging in an activity that involves heights may be enough to raise their heart rate and cause panic.
Agoraphobia is technically categorized as a separate anxiety disorder rather than a specific phobia. It relates to a fear of situations where leaving or getting help may be impossible, difficult, or embarrassing. An article from Johns Hopkins Medicine puts it this way: “In specific phobia, the fear centers on harm directly caused by the situation (e.g., a plane crashing); in agoraphobia, the fear centers on whether escape is possible or if help will be available in the situation”.
This disorder is often tied to panic disorder, as those who have experienced a panic attack in the past may fear their recurrence and avoid situations that could trigger one and/or where experiencing one would be especially undesirable. Many people who have agoraphobia have difficulty leaving their homes and require help with daily activities.
Cynophobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of dogs. While some level of fear of dogs may be warranted in certain situations, people with cynophobia typically experience this fear beyond what would be expected in the circumstances. As a result, they may avoid situations where dogs are likely to be—even in the homes of friends and family or even if the dogs are small or non-threatening.
Astraphobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of thunder and lightning storms. It’s more common in children but may also affect adults. People with this phobia may become preoccupied with watching weather reports, may plan their day around the chances of a storm occurring, or may even move to a place where inclement weather is less likely. They may also experience symptoms when viewing footage of a storm on TV or in a movie, or when seeing a picture of lightning or storm clouds.
Claustrophobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of being in an enclosed area from which escape may be difficult. These fears can be prompted by particularly tight spaces such as elevators, small rooms, or tunnels. Someone who lives with claustrophobia may frequently take stairs to avoid elevators, use ground transportation instead of flying, and otherwise arrange their lives to ensure they don’t encounter tight spaces.
Mysophobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of germs. Those who have this phobia are typically scared of getting sick after being exposed to germs and will often go to great lengths to avoid them. Someone with mysophobia may wash their hands excessively, avoid public places, or go home to shower and clean themselves immediately if they feel that they’ve been exposed to germs.
Also called aviophobia, aerophobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of flying. It’s often caused by the belief that a crash is likely, or it may arise out of claustrophobia and the fear of being trapped in the enclosed space of a plane. Aerophobia can cause an individual to use alternative transportation or avoid travel altogether.
Trypophobia is the intense, overwhelming fear of clusters of holes, such as those on the outside of a sponge or a honeycomb. Some research suggests that the fear of groups of holes may be an evolutionary response linked to a fear of dangerous animals with certain patterns or markings. Another theory is that trypophobia could be caused by an aversion to skin diseases that may feature clusters of bumps or circular marks.
Treatment For Specific Phobias
Psychotherapy is typically the recommended course of treatment for a specific phobia, sometimes in combination with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common types of talk therapy used for this condition, because it can help an individual recognize and challenge irrational thoughts related to the object of their fear and learn to manage symptoms of anxiety. Exposure therapy is another one of the most widely used treatment modalities for specific phobias. It allows the individual to gradually confront the object of their fear in a controlled setting with the guidance of a trained professional until it no longer causes extreme distress.
How To Seek The Support Of A Therapist
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a phobia, meeting with a mental health professional is typically a recommended next step. If you’d prefer to meet with a provider in person, you can search for one in your local area or contact your health insurance company for a list of in-network therapists. If you’d feel more comfortable meeting with someone virtually from the comfort of home, you might consider online therapy.
Research suggests that this modality can help people living with a phobia reduce the severity of their symptoms. In one study on the efficacy of online cognitive behavioral therapy for specific phobia, researchers found significant decreases in anxiety after six weeks of treatment, with 35% of participants no longer fitting the criteria for specific phobia. The study also noted that these benefits were sustained for at least three months after treatment ended. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from anywhere you have an internet connection.
Phobias are intense, overwhelming fears of specific objects or situations that can lead to avoidance or marked distress when encountering them. Some of the most common phobias are listed above. Treatment for phobias usually consists of therapy, either online or in person, sometimes in conjunction with medication.
What is a unique phobia?
There are many phobias categorized as unique or uncommon, including, but not limited to:
- Arachibutyrophobia (the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth)
- Xanthophobia (fear of the color yellow)
- Ablutophobia (a fear of bathing)
- Optophobia (fear of opening one’s eyes)
- Technophobia (fear of technology)
- Octophobia (fear of the number eight)
- Phonophobia (fear of loud noises)
- Biophobia (fear of nature and the natural environment)
- Bibliophobia (fear of books)
- Ailurophobia (fear of cats)
What are the top 5 scariest phobias?
By definition, a phobia causes intense fear of a particular thing, so which are the scariest is subjective to an individual’s experience. However, there are some that may meet conventional ideas of what is frightening or particularly alarming:
- Phasmophobia (fear of ghosts and the supernatural)
- Taphophobia (fear of being buried alive)
- Hemophobia (fear of blood)
- Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
- Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
What are some bad phobias?
Again, what qualifies as “bad” depends on an individual’s experience and the severity of the symptoms. Some of the most debilitating phobias may include acrophobia (fear of heights), mysophobia (fear of germs), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) and aerophobia (fear of flying).
What is the most famous phobia?
Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders, is commonly accepted as the most well-known phobia. Other examples include acrophobia, claustrophobia, and agoraphobia.
What is the longest phobia?
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (the fear of long words) may meet the requirements for the longest phobia.
What are the darkest phobias?
What one qualifies as a “dark” phobia is a matter of personal opinion. One of the darkest phobias is Nyctophobia, or an extreme fear of the dark. Others may include:
- Necrophobia (fear of death)
- Wiccaphobia (fear of witches)
- Coulrophobia (fear of clowns)
- Trypanophobia (fear of needles)
- Aichmophobia (fear of pointed objects)
- Thalassophobia (fear of deep bodies of water such as the ocean)
What is everyone's number 1 fear?
Fears classified under the list of phobias associated with social anxiety disorders appear to be the most common types. These may include fear of public speaking, fear of failure, and fear of rejection. Fear of the harm of or violence against a loved one is also common, as is hoplophobia, a fear of firearms. Many cite the rise in mass shootings in public areas over the past couple of decades as a cause of this particular phobia.
How do I know my phobia?
Phobia is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as “a persistent and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, or activity (e.g., heights, dogs, water, blood, driving, flying), which is consequently either strenuously avoided or endured with marked distress.”
Phobias may vary in levels of intensity, which can make it challenging to determine if you have a phobia or an intense and persistent fear. Regardless, the powerful feelings that accompany a fear are often as intense and may be a symptom of a number of mental disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V)-- most notably-- anxiety disorders.
If you find that you have panic attacks associated with an object, situation, or event, it could be an indication of a phobia. A compulsive fixation on the subject that interferes with your ability to function in daily life may also be an indicator. Some people realize they have a phobia rather than a fear when self-help practices such as mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques are ineffective at relieving their symptoms.
If you’re experiencing intense fears that cause significant distress and problems in your daily life, it may be a symptom of a more serious mental condition. It’s vital to reach out to a mental health professional for assessment and guidance in managing and coping with such challenges.
Why do phobias have weird names?
Names for phobias may seem unusual because they are typically formed by combining Greek or Latin prefixes and the suffix “phobia.” (The Greek word for fear.)
- Previous Article
- Next Article