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 causes phobias?
There doesn't seem to be one particular cause of phobias. There are various factors that might contribute to developing a phobia. But there is not often a clear reason why it starts.
Examples of causes of phobias
- Past incidents or traumas. Certain situations might have a lasting effect on how you feel about them. For example, if you experienced a lot of turbulence on a plane at a young age, you might develop a phobia of flying. Or if you were injured by a dog some years ago, you might develop a phobia of dogs.
- Learned responses from early life. Your phobia may develop from factors in your childhood environment. For example you might have parents or guardians who are very worried or anxious. This may affect how you cope with anxiety in later life. You might develop the same specific phobia as a parent or older sibling. If they have a severe reaction to something they fear, this might influence you to feel the same way.
- Reactions and responses to panic or fear. You might have a strong reaction, or a panic attack, in response to a situation or object. You may find yourself feeling embarrassed by this. Especially if people around you react strongly to your response. You could develop even more intense anxiety about the idea of this happening again.
- Experiencing long-term stress. Stress can cause feelings of anxiety and depression. It can reduce your ability to cope in particular situations. This might make you feel more fearful or anxious about being in those situations again. Over a long period, this could develop into a phobia.
- Genetic factors. Research suggests that some people are more vulnerable to developing a phobia than others.
You might find it helpful to try to work out the causes for your own phobia. But you might equally feel that there is no simple explanation.
Some people avoid the object or situation that triggers their phobia. But this can make your fear worse over time. Being in a scenario involving your phobia can be very difficult though. You may need professional help to enable you to do this.
See our page on treatment for phobias for more information.
This information was published in February 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
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