Out of the entire canon of psychological disorders, phobias are by far the most prevalent amongst our society. They’re the most common psychiatric disorder amongst women and the second most common amongst men. It’s important to note, however, fears and phobias are not the same things. A fear is a ‘normal’ emotional response to something that can cause distress, while a phobia is something that overrides our capacity to deal with a given situation. There are approximately 400 documented phobias, and these tend to present themselves early on in childhood and continue late into adult life. Unlike many other mental health conditions, they affect twice as many women as they men. Here are some of the most common phobias and what they can affect your life:
1. Fear of Spiders (Arachnophobia)
The fear of spiders is one of the most disproportionate when their relative danger is taken into account. Despite us being many times their size, they can invoke a massive fear response. The 1996 film arachnophobia tapped into this psychological response to great effect. But for those who suffer from the condition, the sight of a spider or other arachnid can trigger significant fear and panic despite that out of the 35,000 known varieties very few of the species pose a threat to us as humans. Some psychologist believe the prevalence of this phobia is due to the genetic memory of spiders once posing a significant threat at a time when there wasn’t the medical knowledge available to adequately deal with their attacks.
2. Fear of Snakes (Ophidiophobia)
The fear of snake is often considered to be another case of evolutionary genetics, and the passing on of experience down through the generations. A 2013 study found that our brain has been evolutionary conditioned to be afraid of snake-like forms, which makes sense given the fact that they have been a threat to many different cultures throughout the world. The causes of ophidiophobia include past negative experiences, learned behaviours, depiction in the media and reading and/or hearing about other people’s negative experiences. The associated symptoms are dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, sweating, increased heart rate and trembling/shaking.
3. Fear of Heights (Acrophobia)
It’s not unusual to experience some discomfort when in high places. You might feel dizzy or a little disorientated if you look over the edge of a large building. But it shouldn’t cause you to panic or make you want to get out of that situation as soon as possible. The main symptoms associated with acrophobia is panic and anxiety. Aside from the commonly associated symptoms of phobias, there are a host of psychological symptoms that also can affect you. These include: experiencing panic when seeing high places even if you don’t need to go there, having an extreme fear of being trapped somewhere high up, experiencing anxiety when having to climb a set of stairs.
4. Fear of Flying (Aerophobia)
There is no specific or absolute cause of aerophobia. By its very nature, it’s a very uncomfortable experience for a lot of people. Being on an aeroplane is often a crowded, noisy and turbulent experience at the best of times. And so, it’s often said to be a combination of all these factors combined, which can also be rooted in the fear of heights. It’s thought that our deposition towards flying is modelled largely after our parent’s behaviour and/or may be genetically inherited. Another factor that plays into this phobia is that many people who suffer from this affliction feel they have no control over their situation. The fear of heights can also be associated with the fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), and the fear of vomiting (emetophobia)
5. Fear of Dogs (Cynophobia)
Dogs have much less mystique about them than spiders. They’re considered to be ‘man’s best friend,’ but still, for some people, they provide a great source of fear. The fear of dogs is often much more straight forward than some of the other phobias on this list. There is often a clear point in an individual’s childhood where they likely experienced a negative experience or trauma that causes this aversion to canines. This could be something simple such as incessant barking, intimidation or getting bitten or chased by a dog. The knock-on effect of this is that it can make an individual extremely resistant to being around dogs in general and may cause them to avoid or cancel plans with friends they know keep dogs.
6. Fear of Injections/Needles (Trypanophobia)
No one enjoys getting an injection. And so it’s understandable why people may develop a phobia around them. They invoke a pain response, and so there is a very clear point at which there is actual physical pain or discomfort for which some people have a very low threshold for withstanding. The fear of needles is a form of a resistance fear, which affects around 20-50% of children and around 20-30% of adults. Like with most phobias, it said to have its basis in genetics and/or evolutionary development. The fear of injections really is the fear of sharp object which we’ve conditioned to view as being weapons over many countless generations.
7. Fear of Enclosed Spaces (Claustrophobia)
Claustrophobia is a form of anxiety disorder, which is defined as an irrational fear of small spaces and feeling as though you have no way to escape. Symptoms can be triggered by getting into an elevator, being in a windowless room and even being on a crowded aeroplane. Claustrophobia can also occur as a symptom of panic attacks. When an episode of panic is onset, it can cause an individual to want to ‘get out of the situation’ as soon as possible. But there can then be an association made between the environment the attack occurred in, leading to future bouts of panic in the same place. However, less commonly, claustrophobia can also occur when someone has been traumatised in a situation in which they felt trapped.