Phobia is a type of Anxiety Disorder classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling, or animal (e.g. Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders).

There is a difference between fears and phobias.

Fear is a natural sensation and reaction in humans. It is a healthy survival response to perceived threats.

A phobia, on the other hand, is a feeling of fear in a sharp and excessive way that happens as a prediction, before the situation even happens, causing very high levels of anxiety.

The phobia usually lasts longer than fear, causing psychological and physical reactions, and can compromise the quality of life of those who feel it, paralyzing some activities and routines and leading to avoidance behaviour.

Anyone can be affected by this type of problem, regardless of age, gender and social background. In any case, we must not discard this feeling of excessive fear which can be incoherent with the situation, as it is something quite different from natural anxiety.

Symptoms can include overstimulation of the ‘flight or fight response’ and panicky surge of adrenaline, leading to dizziness, nausea, sweating, increased heart rate or palpitations, shortness of breath, body tremors, stomach discomfort, among others.

Types of phobias

Phobias can be divided into 2 main categories:

  • specific or simple phobias
  • complex phobias

Specific or simple phobias

Specific or simple phobias center around a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They usually develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older.

Common examples of simple phobias include:

  • animal phobias – such as dogs, spiders, snakes or rodents
  • environmental phobias – such as heights, deep water and germs
  • situational phobias – such as visiting the dentist, fear of elevators, fear of flying or driving,
  • bodily phobias – such as blood, vomiting, or injections

Complex phobias

Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias. They usually develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deeply rooted fear or anxiety about a specific situation or circumstance.

The two most common complex phobias are:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Social phobia

Agoraphobia is seen as a fear of open spaces, but it is much more complex than that. Someone with agoraphobia will feel anxious about being in a place or situation where escaping can be difficult if they have a panic attack.

Social phobia revolves around feeling anxious in social situations. If you have social phobia, you may be afraid to speak in front of people for fear of embarrassing yourself and being humiliated in public. In severe cases, this can become debilitating and prevent you from doing everyday activities like eating out or meeting friends.

What are the causes of phobia?

Phobias do not have a single cause, but there are several associated factors.

For example:

  • a phobia may be associated with a specific incident or trauma
  • a phobia can be a learned response that a person develops early in life from a parent or sibling (brother or sister)
  • Genetics may play a role – there is evidence to suggest that some people are born with a tendency to be more anxious than others.


A psychologist with experience in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy will be able to help you, performing the proper assessment and treatment with specific techniques related to coping with the problem.


Almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured. Simple phobias can be treated in the short term with some techniques, such as Gradual Exposure to the object, animal, place or situation that causes fear and anxiety. This is known as desensitization therapy or self-exposure.

Treatment of complex phobias usually takes longer and involves a medium to long-term therapeutic process.

Some guidelines on how to deal with phobias

  • Talk about your feelings with a friend, family member and/or healthcare professional
  • Do physical exercises such as running, walking, swimming.
  • Learn to relax. Use relaxation and breathing techniques. Meditating or practicing Mindfulness or yoga will give you skills to use in these situations.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep nightly and a healthy diet.

The challenge of living with a phobia can lead to abuse of substances for social relaxation, such as alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Avoid and make healthy choices!

In the manifestations of panic crisis, keep in mind that it is fleeting. Try to control your thoughts by focusing your attention on your surroundings and events around you rather than your physical symptoms.

If the phobia is specific to an animal, try not to avoid it, this will increase your fear. Choose to be with someone you trust when you are.

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