This factsheet is for people who have a phobia, or who would like information about them.
A phobia is an inappropriate sense of anxiety or fear triggered by exposure to a specific object or situation. People with phobias have a strong desire to avoid whatever is causing their fears.
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Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, April 2010.
If you have a phobia, you may realise that your fear is out of proportion to the true danger or threat, but you can’t control or explain it. Phobias can be very long-lasting and can cause problems ranging from minor disruption of your life to significant disability.
Types of phobias
There are three main types of phobia:
Specific or simple phobias
These are restricted to very specific situations. They are very common in children, where they are essentially thought of as normal, and usually disappear as children get older. However, some phobias carry on until adult life. Specific phobias can be divided up as fears of:
- animals (eg spiders, snakes, mice, birds and insects)
- the natural world (eg storms, heights, weather)
- blood, injections and injury
- certain situations (eg enclosed spaces, lifts, planes)
Specific phobias are more common in women than men, and they often begin in childhood. People who suffer from these phobias rarely have any other psychiatric or psychological problems.
Agoraphobia means a fear of open spaces. However, it's sometimes used to refer to a fear of being away from your home and family, often because of worry about having a panic attack. During a panic attack, you may have overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety. If you have agoraphobia, you will tend to feel worse the further you are from home. You may also have a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), main roads and public transport. Agoraphobia often starts in late adolescence or early adulthood. It's more common in women than men.
People with agoraphobia can become depressed, and may use alcohol or illegal drugs to try and help them deal with their problems.
Social phobia is when you have an excessive fear of social situations, such as small groups of people at parties. People with social phobia have no confidence with people they don't know, and fear that strangers are critical of them. You may also fear that you will behave in an embarrassing way, such as blushing or shaking in public. Around five in every 100 people have some degree of social phobia.
In some cases, social phobia may lead to excessive drinking, as some people with social phobia feel they need an alcoholic drink to make them feel more confident before a social event. Some people have a particular fear of eating in public, or of any meeting with potential partners. This may lead to people feeling isolated or lonely, because even though they may have social skills, they try to avoid social situations outside their immediate family.