Phobias are extreme fears of certain situations or objects. With a clinical phobia, the fear is distressing enough that it has a negative impact on someone’s ability to succeed at work, home, or in their relationships. While around 60% of the U.S. population admits to having a strong, unrealistic fear of something, clinical phobias occur in only about 10% of people.
Phobias are believed to be related to primitive instincts that helped keep us safe in the past. People point to the fact that the most common phobias are of objects or situations which could inherently cause us harm, such as heights, snakes, and spiders. People ask how is it that they can become so afraid of something that is not so inherently dangerous, such as clowns. It is commonly believed that once a person labels an object or situation as even being a little bit dangerous or scary, and if they then habitually avoid it, their fear becomes even stronger. Over time, this reinforces our sense that the thing we are avoiding is dangerous, making it even scarier. Thankfully, since we can understand that avoidance is key to the maintenance of the phobia, we can understand how to treat it. Similar to some other anxiety-related conditions, phobias are typically treated with an exposure-based therapy that brings us closer to the object or situation that someone is avoiding.
Examples of common phobias:
- Fear of small, enclosed spaces (elevators)
- Fear of certain animals (spiders, dogs, snakes)
- Fear of heights
- Fear of vomiting
- Fear of flying
- Fear of germs
- Fear of thunder/lightning
- Fear of injections at the doctor’s office