A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.


Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.


If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that’s causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress.

Symptoms - Phobias

Phobias can limit your daily activities and may cause severe anxiety and depression. Complex phobias, such as agoraphobia and social phobia, are more likely to cause these symptoms.


People with phobias often purposely avoid coming into contact with the thing that causes them fear and anxiety. For example, someone with a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) may not want to touch a spider or even look at a picture of one.


In some cases, a person can develop a phobia where they become fearful of experiencing anxiety itself because it feels so uncomfortable.


You don’t have to be in the situation you’re fearful of to experience the symptoms of panic. The brain is able to create a reaction to fearsome situations even when you aren’t actually in the situation.

Causes - Phobias

A phobia can develop during childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.


They can be linked to a frightening event or stressful situation. However, it’s not always clear why some phobias occur.


Specific or simple phobias


Specific or simple phobias, such as a fear of heights (acrophobia), usually develop during childhood.


Simple phobias can be linked to an early negative childhood experience. For example, if you’re trapped in a confined space when you’re young, you may develop a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) when you’re older.


It’s also thought that phobias can sometimes be “learnt” from an early age. For example, if someone in your family has a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), you may also develop the same fear yourself.


Other factors in the family environment, such as having parents who are particularly anxious, may also affect the way you deal with anxiety later in life.


Complex phobias


It’s not known what causes complex phobias, such as agoraphobia and social phobia. However, it’s thought that genetics, brain chemistry and life experiences may all play a part in these type of phobias.


The physical reactions (symptoms) a person experiences when faced with the object of their fear are real and aren’t simply “in their head”.

The body reacts to the threat by releasing the hormone adrenaline, which causes symptoms such as:

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath
  • a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)

Treatment - Phobias

Many people with a phobia don’t need treatment and avoiding the object of their fear is enough to control the problem.


However, it may not always be possible to avoid certain phobias, such as a fear of flying. In this instance, you may decide to get professional help and advice to find out about treatment options.


Most phobias are treatable, but no single treatment is guaranteed to work for all phobias. In some cases, a combination of different treatments may be recommended.


The main treatment types are:


You can refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapies service without a referral from a GP.

Self-help - Phobias

Each phobia is different and no single self-help programme will work for everyone. You may decide to use your own self-help strategy or get help from a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist.


A self-help programme could include:


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Organisations that can help