A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which people experience strong, irrational fear of something that poses little to no actual danger. There are many kinds of phobias, from acrophobia (the fear of heights) to claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces) and agoraphobia (the fear of open or public spaces).

Common categories of phobias are:

  • Fear of situations, such as airplanes, enclosed spaces, school or the workplace
  • Nature, such as heights, thunderstorms or water
  • Animals, such as dogs, spiders or insects
  • Blood, injection or injury, such as needles, accidents or surgery
  • Other fears, such as vomiting, loud noises or clowns

Because they are often irrational, a person’s phobias may not be taken seriously by others. However, they can be devastating to those who suffer from them, interfering with many aspects of life.

Social isolation. Staying away from social situations, people and places causes problems in school, work and relationships. Children are at risk of academic problems, loneliness and developing social and coping skills.

Mood disorders. People with some kinds of phobias, especially those related to the fear of situations, may develop depression or anxiety.

Substance abuse. People with a debilitating phobia may develop a dependency on alcohol or drugs to get some respite or in an attempt to get back control.

Suicide. In extreme cases, when the person is overwhelmed by their phobia, they may think about or attempt suicide.

If you are thinking about ending your life, seek help immediately. You are not alone.


Phobias may be caused or triggered by many factors

Many phobias develop in childhood and remain for life if unaddressed.

Negative experiences or panic attacks resulting from a specific object or situation. The person then develops a dread of facing the same object or situation again, which ultimately becomes a phobia. The fear is not so much of the object or situation itself, but rather of experiencing the negative emotions and physical reactions resulting from the initial encounter.

There may be a link between a person’s specific phobia and the phobias and anxieties of their parents, siblings or other co-inhabitants. It is unclear whether this has to do with genetics, learned behaviour or both.

Changes in the way the brain functions may play a role in developing some kinds of phobias.

People who are extremely emotional or sensitive, inhibited or negative in outlook are at greater risk of developing phobias, including if they are exposed to the negative experiences of others (for example, reading a news report of a plane crash can inculcate an unreasoning fear of flying).

Signs & Indications

Regardless of the specific phobia, the signs include:

  • An immediate, intense feeling of fear, anxiety or panic when exposed to (or even just thinking about) the source of the fear
  • Knowing that the fear is unreasonable or illogical but feeling powerless to control it
  • Worsening anxiety as the source of fear gets closer in time or distance
  • Making every effort to avoid the source of fear or enduring it with great difficulty and anxiety
  • Difficulty functioning normally
  • Physical symptoms like sweating, rapid heartbeat, chest pain or tightness, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness or fainting

Children may throw tantrums, cry, cling to their parents or refuse to go near the source of their fears.


Phobias are among the most common anxiety disorders. They are not always permanent. For example, some children are afraid of the dark, of monsters under the bed or being left alone, and many of those children grow out of those fears naturally. If your child has a persistent, excessive fear that disrupts their functioning at school or at home, consult your paediatrician or a mental health specialist.


Not all phobias require treatment. For example, feeling suffocated in a lift or elevator and taking the stairs instead can be annoying but is merely an inconvenience; being terrified of highway traffic and taking back roads instead only adds to your commuting time. These are not considered phobias in a medical sense unless they seriously disrupt your life.

Most people with life-interrupting phobias can be helped to conquer their fears with the right therapy, which is much easier and more effective when initiated right away. Don’t delay in seeking psychological help to deal with your phobia, particularly if you have young children. It’s important to demonstrate resilience and courage to your child by dealing in a forthright manner with your own fears.

Contact us today and get back to meeting the world without fear.