What is Specific Phobia?

A specific phobia is a significant and lasting fear related to the presence of a specific object or situation that often poses little or no actual danger. Exposure to the feared object or situation tends to bring about an immediate fear reaction, causing the person to endure intense anxiety or to avoid the object or situation entirely. Often adults with a specific phobia recognise that the fear is excessive or unreasonable yet feel unable to overcome it.

Commonly Feared Situations in Specific Phobia

There are a number of different types of specific phobias, based on the object or situation feared, including:

  • Animal phobias: Examples include the fear of dogs, snakes, insects, or mice. Animal phobias are the most common specific phobias.
  • Situational phobias: These involve a fear of specific situations, such as flying, riding in a car or on public transportation, driving, going over bridges or in tunnels, or of being in a closed-in place, like an elevator.
  • Natural environment phobias: Examples include the fear of storms, heights, or water.
  • Blood-injection-injury phobias: These involve a fear of being injured, of seeing blood or of invasive medical procedures, such as blood tests or injections. It is quite common for people to experience a fainting response with this phobia.
  • Other phobias: These include a fear of choking, vomiting, contracting an illness, falling down, loud sounds, and a fear of costumed characters, such as clowns.

Common Beliefs in Specific Phobia

At a basic level, the common beliefs in Specific Phobia involve a fear of experiencing:

  • Pain
  • Physical/bodily harm
  • Mental harm
  • Illness/Disease
  • Death

Symptoms of Specific Phobia may include:

People with Specific Phobia will often experience intense symptoms of anxiety when confronted by their fear. Common symptoms can include:

  • Excessive or irrational fear of a specific object or situation
  • Avoiding the object or situation or enduring it with great distress
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack, such as:
      • Rapid heart, heart palpitations, pounding heart
      • Sweating
      • Trembling or shaking
      • Chest pain or discomfort
      • Nausea, stomach distress or gastrointestinal upset
      • Cold chills or hot flushes
      • Muscle tension, twitching, weakness
      • Dizziness, unsteady feelings, light-headedness, or faintness
  • Anticipatory anxiety, which involves becoming nervous ahead of time about being in certain situations or coming into contact with the object of your phobia; for example, a person with a fear of dogs may become anxious about going for a walk because he or she may see a dog along the way.

Who is affected by Specific Phobia?

In Western countries up to 12.5% of the population may suffer from a Specific Phobia at sometime in their life. Phobias usually first appear in adolescence and adulthood but can occur in people of all ages. They are slightly more common in women than in men. Specific phobias in children are common and usually disappear over time. Specific phobias in adults generally start suddenly and are more lasting than childhood phobias. Only about 20% of specific phobias in adults go away on their own (without treatment). The good news is that specific phobias can be successfully treated.