Common Phobia Names and Descriptions
Psychologists usually consider specific phobias to belong in one of three distinct sub-groups, social phobia, specific phobias and agoraphobia. Between them, they affect almost 5% of the population of the United States on a daily, persistent basis. In the 18-54 age bracket, the percentage of people who suffer from a phobia-related anxiety disorder at least once a year is a whopping 13% or 19 million people.
In this article I will predominantly cover specific phobias, but I will also cover the two other types of phobia in broad strokes, simply because I am pretty sure the symptoms may strike a personal chord with many readers, they surely do with me!
Specific phobias are defined as the irrational fear of a specific, tangible object or situation, rather than the anxiety that surrounds a social context (more on this later). Here is a list of the most common specific phobias, along with their descriptions.
The fear of heights (acrophobia) - Perhaps, along with certain animal phobias, one of the most iconic and common fears around. Most people don't know that the acrophobia can be broken down even further to encompass a wide variety of sub-fears.
- Bathmophobia - The fear of slopes and stairs.
- Aerophobia - The fear of flying. Being aerophobic does not necessarily imply you are scared of heights. Statistics estimate that as many as 25% of people are afflicted by this particular fear.
- Climacophobia - The fear of climbing. Is similar to bathmophobia in that it involves the fear of steep gradients, but is only set in motion once you are in the process of actually climbing.
Typical Phobia Induced Symptoms
- Dizziness (vertigo)
- Racing heartbeat
- Tightness of the chest
- Panic attacks
- Shaking or trembling
- Emotion (crying, fear of losing control, fear of death, feeling the need to escape, a general sense of detachment or the surreal)
- Stomach pain
- Flashes of hot or cold
The fear of thunder and lightning (astraphobia) - Despite the minimal threat presented by most thunder and lightning storms, astraphobia causes those afflicted to be permeated by a sense of dreadful anxiety (for other common symptoms please refer to the text capsule to the right).
The fear of arachnids (arachnophobia) - While most people call this the fear of "spiders" it also includes other arachnids such as scorpions. Interestingly, a startling 50% of women and 10% of men claim to hold this particular fear, making it incredibly widespread.
The fear of having no escape (claustrophobia) - Many psychologists speculate that this irrational fear is triggered by a traumatic event such as becoming stuck or getting locked-in.
The fear of snakes (ophidiophobia) - Not to be confused with herpetophobia which is the generalized fear of reptiles and amphibians. Ophidiophobia is considered an innate fear, or evolutionary fear, because it allowed us to categorize a threat immediately.
The fear of needles (trypanophobia)- Ten percent of the population is estimated to suffer from typanophobia, which usually manifests itself with a fear of blood-tests, vaccinations and many types of medical procedures. This fear is another example of what is called an innate evolutionary fear, and is deemed to be a genetic trait aimed at helping us avoid situations where we might get stabbed or hurt.
The fear of clowns (coulrophobia) - While this may not be "common", I took it upon myself to add it to the list because I find it to be a great example of how specific phobias can manifest themselves into odd, yet powerful compulsions. Coulrophobia is far more common among children than it is with adults, and it is speculated that the reason is because kids are confused by a familiar body crowned by an unfamiliar face.
Social phobia differs from specific phobias in that it is a generic fear of public humiliation or embarrassment without a specific context. Social phobia is considered an umbrella term for other social anxiety subsets such as:
- Social anxiety disorder - In effect, a series of symptoms which impair your ability to function in intense social situations. Sadly, SAD is at the heart of many substance abuse addictions because they may "help" the user feel, in the short-term, less restricted and self--conscious in social situations.
- Specific social phobias - A social phobia which is sparked by a specific type of social situation such as the fear of public speaking (glossophobia).
Agoraphobia is the generalized fear that is catalyzed by leaving the security of a personal comfort zone (it is usually defined as the fear of unfamiliar surroundings). There are numerous ways this fear presents itself, salient examples include:
- The fear of death (necrophobia) - That's certainly one way of leaving our comfort zone!
- The fear of mobs (ochlophobia)
- The fear of crowds (demophobia)
- The fear of strangers (xenophobia)
Clinically, there are two separate models of agoraphobia which may not be linked by the same principal causes. These are agoraphobia with an accompanying panic attack, and agoraphobia without the emergence of a panic attack. A popular yet (unproven) theory regarding the causes of agoraphobia holds that it stems from an evolutionary urge to avoid exposure (such as an open field) in order to improve our odds of survival.