What Is a Phobia? 7 Common Phobias and How To Beat Them

Woman scared

Phobias, considered to be a type of anxiety disorder, affect close to 15% of the population in the United States. From fear of water to fear of clusters of holes, the list of phobia possibilities are infinite.

In this blog post, we will explore the basics of phobias, some of the most common forms of the disorder, and some of the most effective ways to cope with a phobia if you have one.

As someone who used to have an intense phobia myself (emetophobia, or the fear of seeing someone vomit), and currently has a phobia (trypophobia, or the fear of clusters of holes) I can speak first-handedly to the deep-seated anxiety and distress that comes with this condition.

Phobias are defined as “an excessive and irrational fear reaction.” If you have a phobia, you may experience a deep sense of dread or panic when you encounter the source of your fear. The fear can be of a certain place, situation, or object. Unlike general anxiety disorders, a phobia is usually connected to something specific.

Symptoms that might arise when someone engages with the object of their phobia include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating, shivering or shaking
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Uncontrollable sobbing and or screaming

Let’s explore some of the most common phobias.

1. Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a phobia characterized by symptoms of distress that arise when someone has to leave their home. This is typically due to perceptions that the outside environment is unsafe and that should they experience distress or fear far away from home, there would be no easy way to return.

Examples include: leaving home alone, using public transportation such as buses and trains, and being in open spaces such as malls and parking lots.

2. Trypophobia

Trypophobia is a phobia of clusters of holes. The most common symptom for people with trypophobia is experiencing nausea when exposed to closely-packed holes or surfaces that have holes placed closely together.

Examples include: the new iPhone camera with three holes, beehives, sponges, animals with spotted patterns.

3. Aerophobia

Aerophobia is the persistent fear of flying. Those who have this phobia experience severe anxiety around flying, even though many realize that flying itself does not pose a threat to them.

Examples include: flying in airplanes or helicopters, drafts of fresh air.

4. Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia, one of the most common phobias in the United States, is the fear of being enclosed in a small space or being closed in at all. Those with claustrophobia might find themselves fearful of elevators, MRI scanning machines, and other similar situations in which they would be enclosed with seemingly no escape.

Examples include: riding elevators, driving in congested traffic, being locked in a windowless room.

5. Acrophobia

Acrophobia is a phobia characterized by an extreme fear of heights even when the fear is seemingly irrational or the height itself poses no threat. Acrophobia can sometimes be developed from a traumatic personal experience with falling from large heights or simply watching someone fall from a high place.

Examples include: flying, being at the top of a building, thinking about tall heights.

6. Nyctophobia

Nyctophobia describes those who find themselves severely fearful of darkness or the night. Common symptoms of nyctophobia include shaking, trembling, trouble breathing, and an increase in heart rate.

Examples include: sleeping alone, strange noises, being in dark places.

7. Germaphobia

Germaphobia, sometimes coupled with other mental health conditions such as OCD, is characterized by an irrational or immense fear of germs and/or contamination. People with germaphobia often fear that exposure to germs will cause severe medical illness, often leading them to excessively think about germs or have difficulty functioning in public or germ-friendly environments.

Examples include: being in a public bathroom and refusing to touch the door handle, not wanting to touch parts of a public bus.

This is just a shortlist of some of the most common phobias, but there are many more out there. Here is a comprehensive list of phobias if you’d like to explore.

So, if you have a phobia, what can you do about it?

According to an acclaimed guide on phobias, the most effective way to overcome a phobia is to “gradually and repeatedly expose yourself to what you fear in a safe and controlled way. During this exposure process, you’ll learn to ride out the anxiety and fear until it inevitably passes. Through repeated experiences facing your fear, you’ll begin to realize that the worst isn’t going to happen; you’re not going to die or ‘lose it.’ With each exposure, you’ll feel more confident and in control. The phobia begins to lose its power.”

Some ways to access a controlled environment could be through therapy, or in safe settings surrounded by a support team like loved ones or a doctor.

Conclusion

Phobias are forms of anxiety disorders that involve irrational and/or extreme reactions to specific things. The types of phobias one can have range from heights to beards to the dark. The best way to treat phobias is to gain exposure in a controlled environment, enlisting the help of therapists, loved ones, and/or medication.

Whatever your phobia may be, we hope you can get access to the help you need in order to live a happy and fulfilled life. Check out the rest of Prairie Health’s blog and website to learn more about anxiety or mental healthcare in general.

Authors

  • Lindsey Law, MD is a board-certified Psychiatrist. She graduated with her medical degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and completed her Psychiatry Residency at UCLA. Dr. Law has extensive psychiatry experience, most recently at Advanced TMS Centers.

  • Ava Ford is a writer, thinker and mental health advocate.

By Lindsey Law

Lindsey Law, MD is a board-certified Psychiatrist. She graduated with her medical degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and completed her Psychiatry Residency at UCLA. Dr. Law has extensive psychiatry experience, most recently at Advanced TMS Centers.

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