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Top 10 most common phobias, their symptoms and common treatments

Updated on May 14, 2013
Fear of spiders (or arachnophobia) is an example of a Specific phobia. Fear of insects is one of the most common phobias.
Fear of spiders (or arachnophobia) is an example of a Specific phobia. Fear of insects is one of the most common phobias.

Definition: A phobia (plural: phobias or phobiæ) is an irrational or obsessive fear or anxiety about some event, object or situation.

This article looks at the classification of phobias; what the 10 most common phobias are; their symptoms and treatment.


Phobias are typically developed in childhood, and it is common for the parent to pass a particular phobia to his or her children. (For example, fear of wasps or spiders.)


Phobias can be classified into three broad groups:

1. Agoraphobia (includes claustrophobia)

2. Social phobias

3. Specific phobias

We will look at each group in turn.

Agoraphobia

This is the most common phobia and affects around 10 million people (in the UK) – around 17% of the population.

Includes:

◦ Fear of crowds

◦ Fear of public transport

◦ Fear of entering shops

◦ Fear of public places

Agoraphobia is a fear or anxiety associated with unfamiliar surroundings or situations. It is mistakenly given the "fear of open spaces" descriptor, but this has been considered to oversimplify the condition.

For example many agoraphobics also

- dislike situations where they perceive being trapped (claustrophobia)

- experience anxiety about being left alone (monophobia); and

- do not wish to travel to far from their ‘safe’ place.

As an anxiety-easing mechanism, travelling with a trusted friend helps some agoraphobics.

Claustrophobia (or a fear of enclosed spaces) is actually part of the same spectrum of agoraphobia disorders. On the face of it, claustrophobia and agoraphobia seem to be opposite disorders (fear of closed spaces versus fear of open spaces), but they have several elements in common such as the mental / physical reactions to the fears or anxieties. The underlying basis appears similar in relation to "loss of control" and similar reactions such as the anxiety states.

Agoraphobia can develop from a previous panic attack, where the person will fear having a panic attack in public and the associated embarrassed of being unable to get help or to safety.

Agoraphobia can develop from other fears such as street crime, random acts of terrorism, accident or illness.

The incidence of agoraphobia is twice as high in women than men, and normally develops between the ages of 18 and 35 years.


Social Phobias

Social phobias encompass any type of situation where the sufferer perceives and or fears criticism by others.

Social phobias (also known as social anxiety disorders) are most common amongst pre-teens and teenagers and like most phobias are unlikely to develop past this age group. These phobias involve a deep anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday situations, particularly within peer groups.

Includes:

◦Excessive self-consciousness

◦Fear of being watched

◦Fear public speaking

◦Fear judging by others

◦Fear of embarrassment

◦Fear eating in public

Someone with a social phobia may have a continual, strong fear of being watched or judged by other people. There might also be an overwhelming anxiety of embarrassment or humiliation by their own actions.

Social phobia sufferers may often worry for days or weeks in advance of a dreaded situation (for example, a presentation or musical recital).

Although commonly classed as a single “phobia”, social phobias consist of a range of fears which have a common, social element running through them. That is, someone with a fear of public speaking or presentations may not suffer from the fear that they are being watched by others.


Cynophobia - or fear of dogs
Cynophobia - or fear of dogs

Specific Phobias (also known as Simple Phobias)

For specific phobias, the anxiety is associated with a specific object or situation. The object or situation is feared, avoided or withstood with deep anxiety to the point that it interferes with normal life.

- Animal phobias: These are the most common specific phobias and well known examples include include the fear of dogs, snakes, insects, or mice.

- Situational phobias: The fear of a specific situation such as flying, a car journey or boat trip.

- Natural environment phobias: Examples include the fear of storms, heights, or water.

- Blood-injection-injury phobias: This includes fear of injections, the sight of blood, needles, or surgery.

- Other phobias: These can include a fear of loud noises and a fear of people dressed up such as clowns.



Common symptoms

Extreme anxiety & discomfort

Rapid heartbeat

Dizziness

Shortness of breath

Excessive sweating

Trembling

Weakness

Panic attack

Top 10 most common phobias

1. Agoraphobia

2. Social phobias

3. Animals (including dogs [Cynophobia], snakes [Ophiophobia] and mice [Musophobia])

4. Blood [Hemophobia]

5. Heights [Acrophobia]

6. Flying [Pteromerhanophobia]

7. Lighting [Astraphobia]

8. Dentists [Dentophobia]

9. Insects (including spiders [Arachnophobia], wasps [Spheksophobia] and bees [Apiphobia])

10. Needles [Aichmophobia]

Quick poll

Have you experienced or do you know someone who suffers from...

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Common Treatments

There are a range of treatments for phobias. The most commonly practiced are as follows:

A supplement of either anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication is sometimes prescribed to enhance the therapy’s effectiveness.


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    • profile image

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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Very interesting summary. As someone who sufferes from claustrophobia, I never thought of it as part of the agoraphobia spectrum at all. I don't have any agoraphobic symptoms... but maybe I do? My wife has mentioned the loss of control as the primary issue. I keep trying to conquer it. Thanks for the article. Voted up.