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.
How to help someone with a phobia
- Find out as much as you can about phobias. Doing this will help you understand what someone might be experiencing. Our information on phobias is a good place to start. Reading personal experiences from the Mind blog can help too.
- Try to learn about their experience of living with a phobia. You could ask them how their phobia affects their life, or what can make it better or worse. Listening to their experience might help you empathise with how they feel.
It might feel hard to understand why someone has a phobia of a certain situation or object. Especially when their phobia seems irrational.
However, it's important that you take their phobia seriously. Try to understand that their phobia can:
- cause severe anxiety
- cause panic and distress
- affect their daily life.
You may not be able to see why they are so afraid of something. But the anxiety and fear they feel is very real.
I never complain because I see no point in doing so, but I get very tired of being politely mocked for my fear.
Avoiding a situation can make a phobia worse over time. But it can also be very distressing if someone is forced into situations they're not ready to face.
It's important to be patient with them. You should work at a pace that suits them.
- Try not to pressure your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with.
- Don't try to force them to be in a situation that triggers their phobia.
My mother always brings up the discussion about me facing my phobia and maybe getting treatment for it. But for me, right now, I don’t want to face it. I feel I am not ready and I don’t feel it is impacting my life enough that it needs to be faced.
Ask your friend or family member what you can do to help. For example, it might help to:
- take them out of the situation
- talk to them calmly
- do breathing exercises with them.
This might help them feel safer and calmer when they start to feel frightened or panicked. Knowing that you are around, and know what to do, can feel reassuring.
I feel better if I have someone with me who knows about my anxiety and how to calm me down. It helps if I just focus on that person talking.
If you think their phobia is becoming a problem for them, encourage them to seek treatment.
- Suggest to help arrange a doctor's appointment. If they're unable to leave the house, try to find out if their GP does home, online or phone visits. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information.
- Offer support when they attend appointments. You could offer to come along to their appointments and wait in the waiting room. It can sometimes help just to have someone accompany them. You can also help them plan what they'd like to talk about with the doctor. Our resource Find the words offers tips on talking to your GP about your mental health.
- Encourage them to seek help from a therapist. You can help them research different options. See our page on how to find a therapist.
- Help them look into different options for support. Try finding out about community services, peer support groups or your local Mind. To find your local Mind, you can use our interactive map of local Minds. For more information, see our useful contacts for phobias.
It can feel challenging to support someone with a mental health problem. You are not alone if you feel overwhelmed at times.
It's important to try to look after your own mental health. If not, it can feel hard to find the energy and time you need to be able to help someone else.
- Set boundaries and don't take on too much. If you become unwell, you won't be able to offer as much support. Decide what your limits are and how much you are able to help. See our pages on how to manage stress for more information.
- Share your caring role with others, if you can. It's often easier to support someone if you're not doing it alone. Reach out to other friends and family, if the person is comfortable with you doing so.
- Talk to others about how you feel. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust can help you feel supported too. Try to be careful about how much you share about the person you’re supporting.
For more ideas, see our pages on how to cope when supporting someone else. This information gives practical suggestions on what you can do and where to find support.
This information was published in February 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
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