One out of eight Americans has a phobia or irrational fear of something, but not every fear is a sign of a phobia. Sometimes phobias are irrational and illogical; other times there may be a logical cause of the irrational fear.
Many phobias lead to panic attacks, which are extremely frightening for both the person having the attack and the people around them.
Before we get into the signs you may have a phobia, here is a bit of background music…
Phobias in Psychology
The most common phobias in psychology include spiders and heights, and often involve panic attacks. Learn the types and causes of phobias, plus treatments.
“A person with a phobia suffers from an ongoing, irrational fear of something that is so strong it creates a compelling desire to avoid it,” writes Joni Johnston, Psy.D. in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Psychology. Some phobias go away over time. Other phobias become a huge part of people’s lives, and stay that way unless treatment is sought. Sometimes, the best treatment involves getting help for anxiety disorders or panic attacks.
Most phobias involve an unreasonable, extreme fear of everyday objects or events – which is why phobias are irrational. They don’t make sense, even to the person suffering from them.
How anxious does your phobia make you? Maybe you’re not seeing signs of a phobia. Read Types of Psychological Disorders – From Anxiety to Personality for more info.
What Are the Most Common Phobias?
Phobias can involve almost anything — coffee, line ups at grocery stores, dust. Some irrational fears that don’t seem to make much sense include arachibutyrophobia, the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth, or geniophobia, the fear of chins. Another irrational fear is being afraid of Friday the 13th (not the movie), which is called paraskavedekatriaphobia.
Most people who struggle with the most common phobias are intellectually aware their fears are irrational, but they just can’t help feeling paralyzed by fear, anxiety, and helplessness. Panic attacks occur, out of their control.
Other phobias seem to make more sense. For instance, some people fear developing ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or cancer. In extreme cases, this could develop into panthophobia and cause panic attacks. Other people are irrationally afraid of ants, which can become an anxiety disorder called myrmecophobia.
The most common phobia in North America is arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders. Speaking in public or glossophobia is another common phobia, as is agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces). Birds is another fairly common phobia: some people can’t look at, hear, or even say the word “bird” without having a panic, hyperventilating and crying — they suffer from ornithophobia.
The most common phobias in psychology often stem from everyday situations.
Where Do Irrational Fears Come From?
Most phobias in psychology develop in adulthood, but can stem out of a childhood fear.
Many phobias start as a “normal” fear based on reality and logic, to an overwhelmingly irrational avoidance of a harmless situation. For example, if you’re running in the park and a snake slithers across the path in front of you, you may quit jogging in that park. That anxiety may not go away even when you stop running in the park – it could spill over to jogging on the street, and even on a treadmill in the gym. Some phobias develop this way, and lead to serious panic attacks over seemingly harmless situations.
Healthy fears and phobias are two different things. Healthy fear keeps you alive and well, alert and energized. Unhealthy fear can cause anxiety and panic attacks, which can make life very difficult.
Learn more about phobias and anxieties with The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook.
Signs of and Treatments for Phobic Behavior
You may have a phobia if:
- Your professional or social life is negatively affected by irrational fears.
- Your fearful, anxious feelings won’t go away, and seem irrational even to you.
- You arrange your life to avoid the situation or object. Phobias disrupt lives – which is why seeking treatment for anxiety disorders and panic attacks is so important!
Overcoming a phobia is possible, often with psychological help. Systematic desensitization is an effective treatment for phobias or panic attacks for many people.
To learn how to cope with the most common phobia, read How Sandra Bullock Overcame Fear of Flying.
If you’re thinking about getting help, read 5 Different Types of Psychologists, Psychotherapists, and Counselors.
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.