Phobias

Explains phobias, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and 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 (such as going outside) or object (such as spiders), even when there is no danger.

For example, you may know that it is safe to be out on a balcony in a high-rise block, but feel terrified to go out on it or even enjoy the view from behind the windows inside the building. Likewise, you may know that a spider isn’t poisonous or that it won’t bite you, but this still doesn’t reduce your anxiety.

Someone with a phobia may even feel this extreme anxiety just by thinking or talking about the particular situation or object.

Is a phobia a mental health problem?

Many of us have fears about particular objects or situations, and 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

"To live in a world full of fear is not living, it is survival."

When should I get help?

It can be difficult to know when to seek treatment for a phobia. If avoidance of the object, activity or situation that triggers your phobia does interfere with your everyday life, or keeps you from doing things you would otherwise enjoy, it may be time to seek help.

Consider getting treatment for your phobia if:

  • it causes intense and disabling fear, anxiety or panic
  • you recognise that your fear is out of proportion to the danger
  • you avoid certain situations and places because of your phobia
  • your avoidance interferes with your normal routine or causes significant distress
  • it stops you getting support for other health problems – for example, it stops you using the phone or seeing the doctor
    you’ve had the phobia for at least six months

See our information on the self-care and treatment options that are available to help you manage your phobia.

"A phobia is only as big as we make it and only as small as we make it. It is what we choose to make it and it can be beaten."

This information was published in March 2017. We will revise it in 2020.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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