Phobias: Causes & Types
Phobias are categorized within anxiety disorders and are intense irrational fears about a situation,
object, place or living creature. They cause individuals to navigate their life and day to day
activities in a way where they can avoid what they consider is dangerous for them. However, the
imagined threat is far greater than it actually is. In the United States of America approximately
19 million people have phobias during which they will experience intense distress when faced
with the cause of their phobia. This can either be linked to a memory or another belief which
causes and further aggravates their fear.
Phobias are diagnosable mental disorders and can prevent individuals from functioning normally
as they can lead to panic attacks. There are three types of phobias which have been recognized
by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and these include complex and simple phobias.
also referred to as simple phobias, are intense and irrational fears of
one specific trigger. These can be linked to recognizable causes that may not occur on a
day to day basis and thus will not affect an individual’s likelihood in a significant way.
Some examples of specific phobias include zoophobia (animal phobia), environmental
phobia, bodily phobia and situational phobia.
refers to the fear of situations from which escape is difficult, such as inside
an elevator or being in a public gathering away from home. Even though it is
misunderstood as a fear of open spaces, it is also applicable to being confined in small
spaces like a bus or a train. Those diagnosed with agoraphobia also are at a higher risk of
refers to a profound fear of being publicly humiliated or judged in a social
situation. Anyone with social phobia will fear large gatherings.
Agoraphobia and social anxiety are both categorized as complex phobias as their triggers are not
recognized easily and people with these phobias find difficulty in avoiding them. An example is
being in large crowds and unable to escape quickly. Any phobia becomes diagnosable when an
individual organizes their daily activities and ultimately, their lives in avoidance of their fear as
they have an overpowering need to avoid anything that may trigger their anxiety. Some examples
of complex phobias are claustrophobia, the fear of confined spaces; arachnophobia, a fear of
spiders and acrophobia, a fear of heights.
An individual’s body works differently during a phobia. Throughout one’s life, specific areas of
the brain recall and store dangerous or traumatic events in one’s life. Research has shown that the
amygdala is responsible for this. Therefore, if a similar event occurs again, then the brain
retrieves the stressful memories causing the body to experience the same reaction all over again.
Traumatic events during a phobia keep reappearing inappropriately and have adverse effects on
Majority phobias have similar symptoms hence, people will experience symptoms which include
acknowledgement of the irrationality of the fear but inability to control one’s feelings, not being
able to function when in the proximity of what they fear, uncontrollable anxiety and an extreme
feeling of avoidance. Physical sensations of these feelings can include abnormal breathing,
trembling, choking sensations, accelerated heartbeat, sweating, nausea, dizziness and
disorientation. Sometimes anxiety can be produced by simply thinking about the phobia. In cases
of younger children, the parents may notice tantrums, hiding or crying.