A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.
Phobias are more pronounced than fears and are a type of anxiety disorder. 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 them considerable anguish.
Phobias are divided into two types: simple phobias and complex phobias.
Specific or simple phobias centre around a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They often develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older. Common examples of simple phobias include:
- animal phobias – such as dogs, spiders, snakes or rodents
- environmental phobias – such as heights, deep water and germs
- situational phobias – such as visiting the dentist or flying
- bodily phobias – such as blood, vomit or having injections
- sexual phobias – such as performance anxiety or the fear of getting a sexually transmitted infection
Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias. They tend to develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance. Two common complex phobias are:
Agoraphobia is often thought of as a fear of open spaces, but it’s much more complex than this. Agoraphobia involves several anxieties, including fear of entering shops, crowds and public places, or of travelling in trains, buses or planes. It also includes anxiety of being unable to escape to a place of safety, usually home. The anxiety usually results in the person avoiding situations such as these.
Social phobia is another complex phobia. Social phobia is a fear of social or performance situations, such as a wedding or public speaking. Those with a social phobia have a fear of embarrassing themselves or of being humiliated in public.
If you have a social phobia, the thought of being in public or appearing at social events will make you extremely anxious and frightened. It is because these types of situations make you feel vulnerable.
Avoiding meeting people in social situations, including parties or eating in restaurants, is a typical sign of social phobia. In extreme cases, some people are too afraid to leave their home.
Paruresis, also known as bashful bladder syndrome, is another type of social phobia. This anxiety disorder means that you are unable to use public toilets or urinate when others are nearby. It can make it hard to perform normal activities, such as going to work, attending social events or taking holidays. Paruresis can start at any age and seems to affect men more than women.
It is thought that 1-2% of men and women have a social phobia, and it is usually linked to low self-esteem and fear of criticism.