When children are afraid of things like snakes. spiders, or even the dark, we usually find it quite normal. But as adults, many of those fears don’t completely disappear, and some of them can seem completely irrational, especially when they become debilitating.
When your fears paralyze you and stop you from doing the things we love or need to do, you may be suffering from a phobia.
What Is a Phobia?
The American Psychiatric Association defines a phobia as an excessive and irrational fear of a situation or object. Phobias usually involve a feeling of being in danger, linking it to a person’s fear of being harmed.
To be considered a phobia, a person has to experience the fear for at least 6 months.
While it is perfectly normal to be afraid of potentially dangerous things like snakes or dogs, when a person has a phobia, that fear typically comes with more severe symptoms, such as:
- Trembling and increased heart rate
- Dizziness and nausea
- Preoccupation with the object in question
In fact, phobia symptoms may even reach the level of a full-blown anxiety attack.
What Are the Most Common Phobias?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) considers phobias one of the most common disorders in the United States, with an estimated 10% of the U.S. population having specific phobias.
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America and the NIMH, the most common phobias include those of enclosed spaces, heights, flying, dogs, animals, and insects.
13 Most Prevalent Phobias
Here is a list of some of the most common phobias that adults face today (though not listed in any particular oder):
1. Social phobia
A person has a social phobia when they fear being judged by others so much that they avoid doing certain things in public, such as public speaking or sometimes even eating with other people. Considered an anxiety disorder, this includes unreasonable self-consciousness in front of other people.
This is generally defined as a fear of open spaces. However, it can be more complex than that, as people who have this may go so far as to keep themselves confined in their homes because of their irrational fear of what may happen if they go out.
People who have this fear of heights may experience it in a variety of degrees. Some people just fear standing on a cliff-top or on top of a tall building, while others experience vertigo even when riding up the escalators in a shopping mall.
Popularized by the film of the same name, this fear of spiders includes the fear of other arachnids, such as scorpions. Seeing a real spider triggers a fear response, but in more severe cases, even just an image of a spider can be enough to cause fear and panic.
Although only a dozen spider species out of the estimated 35,000 actually pose a threat to humans, perhaps the misperception of spiders as dangerous creatures has contributed to this widespread phobia.
5. Aerophobia or Pteromerhanophobia
The fear of flying is another common phobia that can cause severe anxiety in people who find themselves needing to travel somewhere. This may have been triggered by news reports of airplane-related disasters (which are actually extremely rare), or by scenes from films depicting plane crashes—but no one knows for sure why some people get terrified while others are unaffected.
This fear of enclosed spaces occurs when a person feels as if the walls in an enclosed space are closing in on them, such as in an elevator or any other cramped space.
They are probably called creepy-crawlies for this reason: people who have a fear of insects don’t just dislike the pests, but may sometimes have unreasonable fears of any kind of insect.
People fear snakes for good reason: after all, a lot of them are venomous and should be avoided. But when a person’s fear of snakes becomes paralyzing instead of just a driving caution, it may well be considered a phobia.
A lot of children have a fear of the dark, but when adults have an irrational level of fear for it, it can be classified as a phobia. Nyctophobia is often linked to poor sleep, and leads the person to worry about what may happen to them in the dark.
This excessive fear of dogs is estimated to affect 1 in 20 people. Although a big contributor to the phobia is a traumatic experience with a dog in the person’s childhood, even those who have not been bitten or attacked by a dog can still have this fear.
A child may be understandably afraid of thunder and lightning, but an adult having an irrational fear of it may have a phobia.
These people can be so conscious about the weather that they may even change their plans when they know a storm is coming. This fear may cause the person to hide or have sweaty palms and chest pain.
This obsessive fear of germs, uncleanliness, bacteria, and infection may also be called mysophobia. A person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tend to be more prone to this phobia. Symptoms include an irrational avoidance of contact with other people and a relentless washing of hands and cleaning of objects.
This fear of needles is also linked with a fear of other medical procedures. A person with this phobia may avoid medical attention altogether, including trips to the dentist. About 10% of Americans are known to have this phobia.
Treatment of Phobias
Different treatment approaches are available for phobias, but the effectiveness depends greatly on the person and their specific phobia. One popular option is called exposure therapy, in which the person is exposed to the thing they fear in a strategic way, to help them face and eventually overcome that fear.
Another popular method is counter-conditioning, which teaches the person a new response to replace their fearful response. Relaxation techniques help the person replace their anxiety and fear when confronted by the feared object.
If you have a phobia that you feel is unreasonably bothersome, consider consulting a psychologist to overcome the fear.
What’s your biggest fear? Share it with us in the comments below!