What Are Phobias?

What Are Phobias?

Phobias are not unusual. There are over 200 of them, most with names that are difficult to pronounce. A common phobia is arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. A fear of heights is called acrophobia. Don’t confuse acrophobia with aerophobia, which is a fear of flying, or astraphobia, which is a fear of thunder and lighting.

I’ve just touched the tip of the phobia iceberg, beginning with the letter A. On the Internet, you can find long lists of phobias that go all the way to Z.

What is a phobia? It is essentially a situational anxiety. A person feels anxious in response to a specific situation. If you become so anxious about the situation that you experience anxiety in anticipation of it, endure the situation with intense anxiety, or avoid it altogether, your situational anxiety has become a phobia. People with phobias know their fears are unreasonable or excessive but can’t help but feel anxious anyway.

What is a phobia? It is essentially a situational anxiety. A person
feels anxious in response to a specific situation.

People with phobias will try to avoid the situation or object that they are afraid of.  If they can’t avoid the feared stimuli, anxiety levels may increase to a point of panic, and the person may suffer shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, and racing heart.

People will also experience anticipatory anxiety when they know they must confront their fear. Someone with a fear of needles, for example, may suffer with anxiety for days leading up to a doctor’s appointment. People with phobias can also experience anxiety from the mere thought of the feared object or situation. Just looking at a photo of spiders can cause someone with arachnophobia to feel anxious.

Most people can live their life finding ways around their phobia without much hardship.  A person with a fear of elevators may walk up eight flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator.  A person with a fear of clowns will avoid the circus. And a person with a fear of public speaking will find ways to avoid giving speeches.

Sometimes, however, phobias can be problematic and cause one to completely restructure one’s life, or even miss out on things that one would like to experience. This was the case with Whoopi Goldberg, who suffered with a fear of flying. For a long time, she traveled by private bus, even when going from coast to coast. She avoided flying at all cost. The problem with avoiding what you are afraid of is that it strengthens the fear. This is how phobias become stronger.

Treatment for Phobias

Phobias are easier to treat than one might think. A combination of Cognitive Therapy, relaxation training, and systematic desensitization is the gold standard. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and hypnosis can be very helpful as well.

A (Not Even Nearly Complete) List of Phobias

Acrophobia – fear of heights

Agliophobia – fear of pain

Anuptaphobia – fear of staying single

Bibliophobia – fear of books

Catoptrophobia – fear of mirrors

Chromophobia – fear of colors

Claustrophobia – fear of confined spaces

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns

Entomophobia – fear of insects

Gamophobia – fear of marriage

Glossophobia – fear of speaking in public

Hemophobia – fear of blood

Hypengyophobia – fear of responsibility

Leukophobia – fear of the color white

Musophobia – fear of mice

Numerophobia – fear of numbers

Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes

Papyrophobia – fear of paper

Pedophobia – fear of children

Phobophobia – fear of phobias

Ranidaphobia – fear of frogs

Technophobia – fear of technology

Trichopathophobia – fear of hair

Venustraphobia – fear of beautiful women

Risk Factors for Phobias

  • Traumatic life event: The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, in describing classical conditioning, explained how an object or situation, when paired with an unpleasant stimulus, can cause a person to carry over that unpleasantness to the once normal object or situation. For example, if one has a traumatic run-in with a dog at a young age, the person may grow to develop a phobia for dogs (cynophobia). Or if a person was once trapped in a deadly snowstorm, he/she may develop a fear of snow (chionophobia).
  • Age: Phobias usually develop in early childhood.
  • Family: It seems phobias run in families. A person with an immediate family member who suffers from phobias is three times more likely to develop a phobia.

Excerpts from The Anxiety Solution Series, demonstrating the condition before and after treatment: 

“If I allowed the nurse at the doctor’s office to put the blood pressure cuff on me, my blood pressure would be so high that I would have to go to the hospital. So I wouldn’t let them take my blood pressure.” Special Education Aide

After practicing the tools learned in The Anxiety Solution Series, the special education aide no longer had a fear of getting her blood pressure taken. She was able to successfully change the scary image in her imagination, from one of fear to one of humor:

“When I went to actually get my blood pressure taken… it made me laugh, which made me relax.” Special Education Aide



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