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Phobias

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.

Specific phobias

These are phobias about a specific object or situation, such as spiders or flying. They often develop in childhood or adolescence. For some people, they might become less severe as they get older.

Some fairly common specific phobias are:

  • Animal phobias. Such as dogs, insects, snakes or rodents.
  • Phobias of the natural environment. Such as heights, water, darkness, storms or germs.
  • Situational phobias. Such as flying, going to the dentist, tunnels, small spaces or escalators.
  • Body-based phobias. Such as blood, vomit, injections, choking, medical procedures or childbirth.
  • Sexual phobias. Such as sexual acts or fear of nudity.
  • Other phobias. Such as certain foods, objects or costumed characters.

However, your phobia can be a completely unique experience. There are many more specific phobias than those listed above.

How it might feel to experience a specific phobia

If you're afraid of something you have to see or do a lot, this can start to have a serious impact on your everyday life.

If your phobia is about something you don't come into contact with very often, this can sometimes have less of an impact on you.

However, you may still experience fear and anxiety even when the object or situation isn't present. This means that your phobia can still affect you on a daily basis.

Complex phobias

Complex phobias tend to have a more disruptive or overwhelming impact on your life than specific phobias. They tend to develop when you are an adult.

Two of the most common complex phobias are:

What is social phobia?

If you have social phobia, you will feel a sense of intense fear in social situations. You will often try to avoid them. You might worry about a social event before, during and after it has happened. It is also known as social anxiety or social anxiety disorder.

A lot of people find social situations difficult, or feel shy or awkward at certain times – this is completely normal.

Social phobia however can completely overwhelm you. You might find it very difficult to engage in everyday activities such as:

  • talking in groups
  • starting conversations
  • public speaking
  • speaking on the phone
  • meeting new people
  • speaking to authority figures, such as talking to doctors
  • eating and drinking in front of others
  • regular trips out, to the shops for example
  • going to work.

"I have suffered from phobias since I was three years old and couldn't cope with the social demands of a playgroup. I then went on to suffer from School Phobia right through to my teens, then various phobias surrounding college and work, which led to me becoming unemployed, isolated, agoraphobic and severely depressed."

You might worry about these social situations because you fear that others will judge you negatively. Or maybe you fear that you'll offend others by something you say or do. You may also worry about others noticing that you are anxious.

Social phobia can hugely affect your everyday life. It might:

  • affect your self-confidence and self-esteem
  • make you feel extremely isolated
  • make it very difficult to develop and maintain relationships
  • interfere with your ability to work, or do everyday tasks like shopping.

Lots of social phobia, but no friends

"When I walked through the door and was amongst other people, I couldn't even open my eyes."

What is agoraphobia?

Many people think that agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces, but it is more complex than this.

Agoraphobia is feeling anxious about being in places or situations:

  • that could be difficult to get out of
  • that could be embarrassing to get out of
  • where you might not be able to get help if you have a panic attack.

You're likely to experience high levels of anxiety about everyday situations. You may also try to avoid these situations.

Some examples include:

  • being outside alone
  • being in open spaces
  • being in a crowd of people
  • travelling by car, bus or plane
  • being in enclosed spaces, such as a lift or in a shop.

Having agoraphobia can have a serious impact on the way you live your life. Many people with agoraphobia find it hard to leave the place they live.

How does agoraphobia develop?

Agoraphobia can develop due to various reasons. One example is panic disorder, but not all people with agoraphobia have panic disorder.

Agoraphobia can sometimes develop after a panic attack. You may start to feel extremely anxious and worried about having another one. In turn, you may feel your symptoms returning each time you're in a similar situation.

To manage your anxiety, you may start to avoid that particular place or situation. Avoiding particular situations may help in the short term. But this can affect the way you live your life and may make your phobia worse.

If you experience agoraphobia, it's also common that you might:

  • dislike being alone, or monophobia
  • become anxious in small confined spaces, or claustrophobia.
female with her back to the camera, looking at white water rafts

Escaping my agoraphobia

"I was scared to go out into public because I associated it with having panic attacks."

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

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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