Phobias. What is it?

Phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder and women are twice as likely as men to suffer. A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.

Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.

If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that’s causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress. 


There are three main types of phobias:

  1. Agoraphobia – a fear of leaving home, entering shops, crowds and public places or travelling alone in trains, buses or planes, which can induce panic attacks
  2. Social Phobiaa fear of scrutiny by others leading to avoiding social situations, for example, feeling of embarrassment or public humiliation
  3. Claustrophobia – irrational or extreme fear of confined places
  4. Specific phobias such as – Aviophobia: a fear of flying; Emetophobia: a fear of being sick; some women develop this following morning sickness in a pregnancy and it can be so severe that they choose not to have further children

Phobias can express themselves in a bewildering range of fears, many can be difficult for others to understand and lead the person involved to feel huge shame and embarrassment.

Cause and symptoms of it

Phobias aren’t usually formally diagnosed. Most people with a phobia are fully aware of the problem. Phobias don’t have a single cause, but there are a number of associated factors. For example:

  • a phobia may be associated with a particular incident or trauma
  • a phobia may be a learned response that a person develops early in life from a parent or sibling (brother or sister)
  • genetics may play a role – there’s evidence to suggest that some people are born with a tendency to be more anxious than others

Common symptoms of phobias:

  • A desire to run away from the situation
  • Absolute terror when faced with the fear inducing object or situation
  • Avoidance behaviour such as not going out, not touching objects in public or not socialising
  • Physical symptoms including trembling, heart palpitations, feeling sick and dizziness, panic attacks
  • Obsessing about the fear and not being able to think of anything else
  • Anxiety at the thought of the fear


Phobias are among the most effectively treated of all disorders. To be effective, however, treatments for phobias need to be appropriate and geared towards the long-term relief of symptoms. Careful assessment is therefore essential, since many phobias, such as public speaking, social and flight phobia and agoraphobia are often misdiagnosed.

It is important to understand their root causes and deliver effective, personalised treatment for phobias aimed at the long-term alleviation of recurrent anxieties.