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Find information on phobias, including symptoms, causes and how to access treatment and support. Get tips for helping yourself, plus guidance for friends and family.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It is an extreme form of fear or anxiety, triggered by a particular situation or object.

  • A situation that triggers a phobia. You may know it's safe to be out on a balcony in a high-rise block, but feel terrified to go out on it. You might not even be able to enjoy the view from behind the windows inside the building.
  • An object that triggers a phobia. You may know that a spider isn’t poisonous or that it won’t bite you, but this still doesn’t reduce your anxiety.

You may even feel this extreme anxiety when you think or talk about the situation or object.

Phobias and mental health

Many of us have fears about particular situations or objects. This is perfectly normal. A fear becomes a phobia if:

  • the fear is out of proportion to the danger
  • it lasts for more than six months
  • it has a significant impact on how you live your day-to-day life.

I wish I had a reason to explain to people where my phobia came from, but I don’t. I just handle it in the best way I can.

When should I get help for a phobia?

It can be difficult to know when to get help for a phobia. Bear in mind that phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. It may be time to consider treatment for your phobia if:

  • avoiding the trigger object, situation, place or activity affects your everyday life, or causes you great distress
  • it keeps you from doing things you normally enjoy
  • it causes intense and overwhelming fear, anxiety or panic
  • you recognise that your fear is out of proportion to the danger
  • you’ve had the phobia for at least six months
  • it stops you getting support for other health problems – for example, a phobia that stops you using the phone or seeing the doctor.

For more information, see our pages on self-care for phobias and treatment for phobias.

It has taken me four whole years to realise that life doesn't have to be this way. I started psychotherapy. And it was when I discovered that there was another way of living.

This information was published in February 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References and bibliography available on request.

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