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What are Phobias and How to Spot Them

It seems, doesn’t it, that a lot of mental health issues come out of fear? Phobias are a kind of fear as well — irrational, excessive kind of fear towards something that’s generally harmless, or at least can be easily handled. And you know the really scary bit? Everybody has them.

Defining Phobias

According to Wikipedia, a phobia is “a type of anxiety disorder defined by a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation.” In layman’s terms that means that when someone gets scared easily about something in particular for no real reason, that is a phobia about that item. 

A phobia is very much centered around an object or a situation. For example, the most common type of phobia that we can easily find is Arachnophobia, meaning the fear of spiders. A person who is phobic about an object or situation will be in very much distress when that thing or situation is nearby and may also act out of mind to some degree

“A phobia is very much centered around an object or a situation.”

Depending upon the source of fear, there can be many kinds of phobias. However, psychologists broadly classify phobias into 3 main kinds: Agoraphobia, Social Phobia, and Specific Phobias. Let’s take a glance at these.


The fear you feel in a situation that you can’t escape from, or when you can’t have any help, is called agoraphobia. Indeed, the very word “agoraphobia” means “the fear of open spaces” — and yes, that’s a thing. 

Most people who suffer from agoraphobia are lonesome by nature — they feel very uncomfortable in large crowds, or when outside their homes. In these situations they may even get a panic attack, which can go very badly indeed.

Here we should say that phobias may have some very physical side effects. For example, we’ve seen people having fear of riding buses having motion sickness and breathing issues when they must ride a bus.

Social Phobias

This particular thing, social phobia, is so broad in nature that it occupies its own mental disorder category; and is better known as the social anxiety disorder. It is the fear of communicating and connecting to people. 

The funny thing is that most people already have varying degrees of apprehension towards being a social butterfly. It’s not easy to mingle or give a speech, and we all know it! But some of us get so frightened of meeting strangers or being the center of attention, they get positively upset about it, get panic attacks, or just freeze. That’s a disorder right there.

Specific Phobias

These are fears that one can have about a very particular object or activity. Fear of snakes, cockroaches, heights, etc. are some examples. People with one of those phobias will often go to extreme lengths to avoid the thing, and if they are forced to be close to the thing they may get totally crazy. 

Some of the most common specific phobias are listed below: 

    • Arachnophobia: fear of spiders
    • Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes
    • Acrophobia: fear of heights
    • Cynophobia: fear of dogs
    • Astraphobia: fear of thunder and/or lightning
    • Trypophobia: fear of holes
    • Aerophobia: fear of flying
    • Xenophobia: fear of the unknown or unfamiliar (such as foreigners)
    • Claustrophobia: fear of small spaces
    • Glossophobia: fear of public speaking
    • Emetophobia: fear of vomiting

“Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders, is the most common phobia.”

The list is, of course, not even close to complete. People may have phobias of so many and such strange things, you wouldn’t imagine. For example, did you know that some people can be scared of books?

You are thinking, what’s the harm in a plain old innocent book? Well, they can teach folks the truth and reality about how the world runs, and some very powerful guys just hate that. Now you know why some people burn books — because they are bibilophobic!

A full and complete list of phobias that were found and documented can be found here. OMG, we can make it a quiz!

How to Recognize a Phobia

It may be confusing to spot a person with a phobia or a normal person. And sometimes it is entirely too easy — easy enough for you to suspect your own judgment. (Judge not, lest ye be judged!) Everybody can and probably has some sort of secret fear about something, it is nothing to laugh at.

Generally, phobias can be indicated by some quite specific symptoms. The common symptoms of most phobias are:

    • Fear, first of all. Uncontrollable, meaningless fear.
    • Feeling tense or dreadful when thinking about the object of the phobia.
    • Abnormal, irrational behavior when close to the object of the phobia.
    • Panic attacks when forced to be with an object of the phobia. Like breathing problems, pounding heart, tightness in the chest, sweating, trembling, etc.
    • Discomfort in stomach or abdomen
    • A strong wish to get away from there

Why do Phobias Happen

Some phobias come out of childhood traumas. For example, androphobia (the fear of grown men) can be seen in rape victims, as well as the phobia of snakes. This can happen from yourself getting hurt, or seeing someone else get hurt by that object. 

Or, getting hurt not directly by that object, but near that object can also cause a phobia about that object. For example, we know a guy who can never eat samosas because in childhood he received the news of his mother’s death while he was eating samosas.

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Sometimes, a phobia can come out of just revulsion or hatred towards an object — most bug or vermin-related phobias are from this. However, these are more normal fears than phobias.

Remember, a behavior is a mental disorder if and only if it is hurting yourself or the people around you.

How to Cure Phobias

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is extremely helpful in treating phobias. In this, the patient gets to know and understand his/her source of fear in a controlled, safe environment. It is done slowly and gradually, till the patient gets used to the idea of the object of fear.

This type of therapy removes the shackles of the conditional behaviors inside you, helping reduce anxiety and thus doing away with panics and other physical symptoms. CBT also takes care of many other mental health issues you may have.

If the patient is suffering a lot, then the doctor can even give some anti-anxiety meds to suppress the tension. This helps to calm the patient down enough to proceed to therapy.


Remember, it is really cruel to laugh at someone’s phobia. You don’t know how the person feels when they are in contact with their object of fear! So, don’t judge. Treat the affected person with care and support. If you have a phobia that’s hurting your life, go see a doctor immediately — because phobias can be easily fixed and you may get to enjoy a happy life.

Author: Swarna Karmakar

Swarna is an experienced content writer and marketer from Kolkata, India. His amateur interest in psychology, born out of mental health troubles he has experienced himself and among his friends and family, has led him to the dream that is Our Clear Minds. He works as a Senior Content Writer, and enjoys instrumental music and science fiction books in his pass time.

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