A phobia is an uncontrollable and irrational fear of something, such as flying. This can limit a person's day-to-day life but, with the right help, phobias can be faced, reduced and often completely overcome.
Living with a phobia is stressful and limiting, and stigma around phobias can leave people feeling ashamed or isolated. Living with someone with a phobia can be demanding, and family or partners might also benefit from support.
Commonly called a fear of going out, for example leaving home, people who feel agoraphobic sometimes also report a fear being trapped or being in a place that they can’t leave.
A common phobia, claustrophobia is a fear of small spaces. Like agoraphobia, severe claustrophobia might stop a person from leaving home and going to work if, for example, driving, taking a train or lift makes them anxious.
Fear of being attacked by an animal can prevent people leaving home, and feel a huge loss of control over what they see, hear, read or watch if even the mention of an animal attack triggers symptoms.
Fear of healthcare can prevent people getting the help and care they need to stay well.
It might be possible to avoid flying, but for people with a fear of flying, fears about loved ones who fly – or even about planes flying near them – can be upsetting and isolating.
For some people, public events such as family events, weddings, and work conferences create massive anxiety. People with social phobia feel unreasonably anxious about embarrassing themselves, or being humiliated, in front of people they know.
People with a phobia experience unreasonable anxiety around the thing they feel phobic about. For some people, even hearing or talking about something is terrifying. Some people with phobias cannot think about the thing they’re afraid of.
In these cases, phobias give people anxiety symptoms:
People with phobias might attempt to control the anxiety by avoiding triggers (thinking, talking about or being in or near the subject of the phobia). It is also common for people with phobias to use alcohol to self-medicate. Phobias can feel shameful or embarrassing, which might prevent people seeking treatment. People might also avoid treatment if they think that treatment will force them towards the subject of the phobia.
Everyone is scared of something, and some of us are more scared than others. But if fear feels unmanageable or unreasonable (for example, if fear is making it harder to work or leave the house), a person might need the support of a therapist to manage how they’re feeling.
Phobias can be cured, and might resolve on their own in rare circumstances. But they are stressful and painful, and can be incredibly debilitating.
According to the NHS, phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety UK estimates that 2.4% of adults in the UK currently live with a phobia.
Phobias tend to be linked to anxiety and mental health in general, so increased stress in life can increase the risk of a phobia developing or returning.
New research raises the possibility of a link between tranquilisers (e.g. sleeping pills, benzodiazepines) or long-term alcohol use and the onset of agoraphobia.
Phobias can be cured with therapy, medication, or both.
CBT can help people with phobias develop awareness of their fear, and how it feels when it rises. This can make it easier to question, slow down or divert the anxiety, a skill that grows over time.
Like OCD, exposure therapy shows good results for many people struggling with phobias.
Antidepressants (such as SSRIs) can help people cope with the symptoms of phobias – particularly social phobia.
A UK charity that runs group therapy for people to treat phobias or maintain recovery.