As humans have evolved over time, certain people have developed responses to deal with unwelcome situations that we now refer to as phobias. The word phobia comes from the Greek word phobos, which means fear, and is commonly used as a suffix to create a word for an irrational, abnormal, and ongoing fear that affects someone’s life enough to be considered a mental disorder.
There are several well-known phobias, many of which are treatable with different types of therapy. Other phobias are quite rare, but are no less crippling to those who suffer from them. Here’s a list of 14 common phobias. Check them out to see if any of these resonate with you.
Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears in the world and with good reason. Scientists who have studied arachnophobia believe that this fear is an evolutionary response to spiders, many of which are extremely venomous and harmful to humans.
This association with venom and disease has led to people being afraid of even harmless house spiders because of their resemblance to their poisonous cousins. In one UK study, 32% of women and 18% of men surveyed reported fear and anxiety when confronted with a spider, even if it was just a photo.
Another common fear that almost a third of adults suffer from is ophidiophobia – the fear of snakes. Ophidiophobia is believed to be an evolutionary response in many humans, who have come to associate snakes with venom and death.
For some people, their ophidiophobia began after they came across a snake or were threatened – or even just watched a family member or friend interact with a snake. Many people are afraid of snakes particularly, but fear most animals generally. This fear is known as zoophobia. Getting over a fear of snakes can be accomplished through counselling, meditation, therapy, or desensitization.
Another animal-related fear is cynophobia, the fear of dogs. This fear tends to affect people differently than other animal fears, like ophidiophobia and arachnophobia, because dogs are much more common in everyday life. Look around you – you’re more likely to see a dog on the street than any other animal.
Many people fear large or aggressive dogs because of a past trauma, but some people have developed such severe cynophobia that they avoid even the smallest, most docile dogs. Exposure therapy can help if you’re cynophobic. A method created in the 1950s starts with the patient using their imagination to picture being in the same room as a dog, and employs relaxation techniques to reduce their anxiety.
It’s been estimated that one in every 20 people are afraid of heights – this is known as acrophobia. While many people report feeling some fear when standing on extremely tall buildings or mountains, there are people that refuse to even step onto a low balcony, drive over a bridge, or use an escalator.
People who suffer from intense acrophobia find that it affects their everyday life, especially if they live in a city, where high-rise buildings are the norm. Some sufferers report dizziness if confronted with heights or panic attacks just from the anticipation of having to be somewhere high up. Many psychiatrists believe that pervasive negative thoughts are the main causes of acrophobia – the belief that you won’t be able to balance or someone will push you.
Agoraphobia is a fear that some people have of either open or very crowded spaces. Many theorists believe that rather than the actual situation being the fear, agoraphobia is caused by a fear of panic – that they won’t be able to control themselves, which could lead to hyperventilation or intense gastrointestinal distress.
Agoraphobia can develop young or can be brought on by sudden life changes like death, divorce, or natural disaster. It’s very important to treat agoraphobia as early as possible, because if left untreated, it could lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
People who already suffer from anxiety disorders are more likely to suffer from claustrophobia – the fear of enclosed spaces. This fear makes people avoid small, enclosed spaces like elevators, caves, tunnels, or even airplanes. The fear of confinement is what makes many people claustrophobic.
This can be exacerbated if someone has a past history of traumatic experiences involving being trapped. Treatment options often inspire great fear in claustrophobics, but have been proven to be effective in treating ongoing claustrophobia.
One fear that many humans share with other animals is astraphobia – the fear of thunder and lightning. It’s the third-most common phobia in the USA. This fear seems rational when you think about how damaging a severe storm can be, but some people experience so much fear in anticipating a potential storm that it begins to negatively impact their life. For many people, astraphobia is a result of past traumatic experiences, like war and conflict – the sounds of thunder and lightning can easily sound like distant bombs or gunfire.
Also known as germophobia, mysophobia is a fear of infections, germs, or bacteria. It manifests as an obsession with keeping things sterile.
Although some tidy people get teased for being germophobic, a truly mysophobic person isn’t just concerned with cleanliness. They focus instead on microbes, and spend the majority of their day cleaning, often with the aid of a large variety of different products that are touted for their sanitizing abilities. Mysophobia often stems from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
As many as 25% of all people on a plane at any given time suffer from aerophobia – the fear of flying. This is a fear that many people are able to avoid by either staying at home or driving, but some people are forced to travel on an airplane for business or personal reasons.
Anxiety on airplanes is such a common occurrence that most airlines provide discrete air sickness bags for travellers who are nauseous. Aerophobia is linked to a few other phobias like the fear of heights or enclosed spaces.
One fear that remains a mystery to many scientists and psychologists is trypophobia – the fear of holes. While the fear of large holes is understandable (often these holes shelter animals or can trip someone who doesn’t notice them), many trypophobics also fear objects with small holes, like pockmarked skin, sponges, and honeycombs.
Some theories posit that this is because small holes are generally associated with organic decay and illness – vegetables with markings are usually discarded and marks on the skin, like rashes and blemishes, are a sign of illness.
The fear of speaking publicly affects many people. For some, this fear inspires intense preparation before the event, but for others with severe glossophobia, their fear becomes crippling to the point where they pass out.
Many psychiatrists prescribe beta blockers to their patients with glossophobia, which helps to lower their heart rate and control shaking. If your glossophobia is mild, one way to get over it is to take a class in public speaking, or join a club where you can practice.
Between 3.5-10% of people in the world suffer from trypanophobia – the fear of needles. While most people aren’t 100% comfortable with needles, for some people, their trypanophobia is so severe that even thinking about needles or pins can bring on an immediate anxiety attack.
Some people have success with clinical hypnotherapy or self-help techniques like meditation and muscle relaxation in anticipation of upcoming immunizations or shots.
While many children report suffering a fear of darkness, it does affect some adults as well, in a disorder that psychiatrists call nyctophobia.
Generally, this fear stems from a past trauma of being left alone in the dark, but it can also be caused by exposure to horror movies or literature. Children often express their nyctophobia by wetting the bed or through methods of self-soothing like thumb sucking and sleeping with a nightlight.
Xenophobia is the clinical name for the irrational fear of the unknown, but many people use it as an excuse to hold on to racist beliefs. Xenophobia often manifests as a suspicion or all-out hatred for foreigners, leading to racial violence or crime.
It is becoming much more common, as globalization leads to mass migration and more interactions with people from outside of our immediate communities. Xenophobia related to new situations and interactions can be debilitating and lead to a panic attacks.