A phobia is more than a simple fear. It develops when a person begins to organise their life around avoiding the thing they are afraid of, whether it’s an animal, object, place or situation. A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder.
If you have a phobia, you will have an overwhelming need to avoid all contact with the source of your anxiety. Coming into contact with the cause of your phobia or even the thought of this can make you anxious and may cause you to panic.
If the cause of your phobia is an object or animal that you do not come into contact with regularly, such as a snake, it is unlikely to affect your day-to-day life. However, if you have a more complex phobia, such as agoraphobia, you may find it very difficult to lead a normal life.

Types of phobia

There are many different phobias, which can be divided into simple and complex phobias.

Simple phobias

Simple phobias are fears about specific objects, animals, situations or activities. Some common examples include:
  • dogs
  • spiders
  • snakes
  • enclosed spaces
  • dentists
  • flying

Phobias affect different people in different ways. Some people only react with mild anxiety when confronted with the object of their fear, while others experience severe anxiety.

Complex phobias

Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias because they are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular circumstance or situation. Two common examples of complex phobias are agoraphobia and social phobia.

Symptoms of Phobia

All phobias can limit your daily activities and may cause severe anxiety and depression. People with phobias usually need to avoid contact with the thing that causes fear and anxiety. How far someone with a phobia will go to avoid contact varies considerably. For example, someone with a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) may not want to touch a spider, whereas someone else with the same fear may not even want to look at a picture of one.

How common are phobias?

Phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder with an estimated 10 million people in the UK having phobias. Phobias can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex and social background. Simple phobias, such as a fear of going to the dentist, usually start during early childhood, often between the ages of four and eight. Simple phobias often disappear on their own as the child gets older and usually do not cause problems in adulthood. Complex phobias usually start later in life.

How are phobias treated?

Many people with a phobia do not need treatment and find that avoiding the object of their fear is enough to control the problem. This is clearly a viable option if the feared object is remote and you are unlikely to encounter it in your everyday life. However, it may not always be possible to avoid certain phobias, such as a fear of flying.

Psychological treatments

CBT is the treatment of choice for phobias. CBT is concerned with linkages between thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Phobias start with irrational thoughts but lead to intense emotional reactions (fear) and behavioural avoidance.

Good news

Phobias can cause serious emotional distress and functional impairment. They can restrict your life and lead to significant worry and fear. However, phobias can be easily, all you have to do is take the first step and make the call to improve the quality of your life.