phobia is strong fear or dread of a thing or event, which is out of
proportion to the reality of the situation. The most effective treatment is
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Antidepressant medication also helps in
What are the
symptoms of phobia?
you come near to, or in contact with, the feared situation you become
anxious or distressed. In addition you may also have one or more unpleasant
physical symptoms. For example: a fast heart rate, palpitations, feeling
sick, shaking (tremor), sweating, dry mouth, chest pain, a 'knot in the
stomach', fast breathing. The physical symptoms are partly caused by the
brain which sends lots of messages down nerves to various parts of the body
when you are anxious. In addition, you release stress hormones (such as
adrenaline) into the bloodstream when you are anxious. These can also act on
the heart, muscles and other parts of the body to cause symptoms. You may
even become anxious by just thinking of the feared situation. You end up
avoiding the feared situation as much as possible, which can restrict your
life and cause suffering.
types of phobia
Social phobia is possibly the most common phobia. With social phobia
you become very anxious about what other people may think of you, or how
they may judge you. Therefore, you fear meeting people, or 'performing' in
front of other people, especially strangers. You fear that you will act in
an embarrassing or humiliating way, and that other people will think that
you are stupid, inadequate, weak, foolish, crazy, etc. You avoid such
situations as much as possible.
Agoraphobia is also common. Many people think that agoraphobia means
a fear of public places and open spaces. But this is just part of it. If you
have agoraphobia you tend to have a number of fears of various places and
situations. For example, you may have a fear of:
Entering shops, crowds, and public places.
Travelling in trains, buses, or planes.
Being on a bridge or in a lift.
Being in a cinema, restaurant, etc, where there is no easy exit.
But they all stem from one underlying fear. That is, a fear of being in a
place where help will not be available, or where you feel it may be
difficult to escape to a safe place (usually to your home). When you are in
a feared place you become anxious and distressed, and have an intense desire
to get out. Therefore, to avoid this anxiety many people with agoraphobia
stay inside their home for most or all of the time.
Other specific phobias
There are many other phobias of a specific thing or situation. For example:
Fear of confined spaces or of being trapped - Claustrophobia
Fear of certain animals
Fear of injections or needles - Belonephobia
Fear of vomiting - Emetophobia
Fear of the dentist -
Fear of flying - Aerophobia
Fear of urinating in public - Paruresis
You will find websites dedicated to many of these specific phobias in the
website section below.
What is the
treatment for phobias?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you to change certain ways that
you think, feel and behave. It is a useful treatment for various mental
health problems, including phobias.
Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that certain ways of thinking can
trigger, or fuel, certain mental health problems such as anxiety,
depression and phobias. The therapist helps you to understand your current
thought patterns. In particular, to identify any harmful, unhelpful, and
false ideas or attitudes which you have that can make you anxious. The aim
is then to change your ways of thinking to avoid these ideas. Also, to
help your thought patterns to be more realistic and helpful.
Behavioural therapy aims to change any behaviours which are harmful or not
helpful. For example, with phobias your response to the feared object
(anxiety and avoidance) is not helpful. The therapist helps you to change
this. Various techniques are used, depending on the condition and
circumstances. For example, for agoraphobia the therapist will usually
help you to face up to feared situations, a little bit at a time. A first
step may be to go for a very short walk from your home with the therapist
who gives support and advice. Over time, a longer walk may be possible,
and then a walk to the shops, then a trip on a bus, etc. The therapist may
teach you how to control anxiety when you face up to the feared situations
and places. For example, by using deep breathing exercises. This technique
of behavioural therapy is called exposure therapy where you are exposed
more and more to feared situations, and learn how to cope.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a mixture of the two where you may
benefit from changing both thoughts and behaviours. CBT is usually done in
weekly sessions of about 50 minutes each, for several weeks. You have to
take an active part, and are given homework between sessions. For example,
you may be asked to keep a diary of your thoughts which occur when you
become anxious. Note: unlike other forms of talking treatments
(psychotherapy), CBT does not look into the events of the past. CBT aims
to deal with your current thought processes and/or behaviours, and helps
to change them where appropriate. CBT usually works well to treat most
phobias, but does not suit everyone.
If you would like to discuss any of the
mental health issues raised on this page or find out how counselling might
Phobia (TOP UK)
Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK) is a UK registered charity which aims to help
sufferers of phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and other related
anxiety to overcome their fears and become ex-sufferers. We do this by
running a network of self-help therapy groups. Groups meet weekly and are
structured, warm and supportive.
Good resource site to help sufferers and their families with
emetophobia, a fear of vomiting.
Needlephobia's correct name is belonephobia. It can be defined as a fear of
sharp objects such as pins or needles. This website, run by Smith & Nephew,
includes information for the general public and professionals affected by
this issue with regard to healthcare
UK Charity dedicated to helping men and women for whom urinating in the
presence or vicinity of other people, is difficult or impossible, and
dealing with the problems this brings about.
One of many excellent websites dedicated to overcoming a fear of flying
Dental Phobia provides you with the latest information on how to
overcome your fear of the dentist. We have a panel of experts who have a
great deal of experience of dealing with phobic patients or people who are
quite simply frightened of the dentist or the dental experience
This site aims to provide a starting point for
people finding out about social anxiety and related issues. It also acts as
a central hub for the community of those with
social anxiety problems in the UK
Another excellent resource is
Thank you to M for suggesting it.
Anxiety UK is a national registered charity formed 40 years ago by a
sufferer of agoraphobia for those affected by anxiety disorders. There are
specific pages of information covering all the main phobias mentioned on
Back to the top
In this section you will find a
selection of leaflets you can download or print.
Leaflet from Royal College of Psychiatrists
Phobia leaflet from MoodJuice
Social Phobia leaflet from MoodJuice
Swindon and District Samaritans has been
offering emotional support to those in crisis for more than 40 years. You
can call or email 24hrs a day.
Local branch of the national charity providing support,
resources and drop-in sessions.