What types of phobias are there?

Phobias can develop around any object or situation. They can be roughly categorised into two groups:

  • Specific (simple) phobias
  • Complex phobias

Specific (simple) phobias

These are phobias about one thing, such as spiders or flying. They often develop in childhood or adolescence, and for many people they will lessen as they get older.

This list shows some of the more common phobias. However, there are many more:

  • Animals (such as dogs, insects, snakes, rodents)
  • The natural environment (such as heights, water, darkness)
  • Situational experiences (such as flying, going to the dentist, tunnels)
  • Body-based phobias (such as blood, vomit, injections)
  • Sexual phobias (such as sexual acts themselves or a phobia of nudity)

If you are afraid of something you have to see or do a lot, this can start to have a serious impact on your everyday life.

“I have a phobia of eating due to the fact that I am convinced that I will choke to death if I eat any solids. I always eat baby food or milkshakes [and] smoothies. [This] has a major impact on my day-to-day life as I cannot go out for a meal, on holiday or to any social occasions.”

If you have a phobia about something you do not come into contact with very often, this can often have less of an impact on you. However, you may still experience fear and anxiety even when the object or situation is not present, meaning that your phobia can still affect you on a day-to-day basis.

“I have emetophobia (fear of vomit). Even just hearing people cough freaks me out as I think they’re going to vomit.”

Complex phobias

Complex phobias tend to have a more disruptive or disabling impact on your life than specific (simple) phobias. They also tend to develop when you are an adult. Two of the most common complex phobias are social phobia and agoraphobia.

Social phobia

If you have social phobia (also called social anxiety or social anxiety disorder), you will feel an extreme sense of fear and anxiety in social situations. This may be connected to one specific situation, such as public speaking, or it may be that you are afraid of talking to or being around other people in general.

“I cannot answer the phone or open letters and the stress makes me sweat until I cannot look people in the eye.”

A lot of people find social situations difficult, or feel shy or awkward at certain times, and this is completely normal. If you have social phobia, you will feel a sense of intense fear in social situations, and will often try to avoid them. This can be extremely debilitating and make it very difficult to engage in everyday activities, like going to work and seeing friends, or to do regular tasks, like shopping and going to the bank. These phobias can also make it very difficult to seek support, particularly if you are not able to phone or meet with people who could help you with them.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is widely thought to be a fear of open spaces, but it is more complex than this. The essential feature of agoraphobia is that you will feel anxious about being in places or situations that it would be difficult or embarrassing to get out of, or where you might not be able to get help if you have a panic attack.

This anxiety will then result in you avoiding a variety of situations that may include:

  • Being alone inside or outside the home
  • Being in a crowd of people
  • Travelling by car, bus or plane
  • Being on a bridge or in a lift

This can have a serious impact on the way that you live your life, and many people with agoraphobia find it hard to leave their house. It is common that if you experience agoraphobia, you might also dislike being alone (monophobia). You may also become anxious in small confined spaces (claustrophobia).

“I’ve had a varying amount of agoraphobia for many years, which comes and goes depending on how my depression and anxiety is. In recent years, I seem to have developed a fear of being touched by anyone other than close friends or family, and a general fear of most people/strangers.”

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