Phobias are divided into three main categories:

  • Specific phobias. A specific phobia involves an irrational, persistent fear of a specific object or situation that's out of proportion to the actual risk. This includes a fear of situations (such as airplanes or enclosed spaces); nature (such as thunderstorms or heights); animals or insects (such as dogs or spiders); blood, injection or injury (such as knives or medical procedures); or other phobias (such as loud noises or clowns). There are many other types of specific phobias. It's not unusual to experience phobias about more than one object or situation.
  • Social phobia. More than just shyness, social phobia involves a combination of excessive self-consciousness and a fear of public scrutiny or humiliation in common social situations. In social situations, the person fears being rejected or negatively evaluated or fears offending others.
  • Fear of open spaces (agoraphobia). This is a fear of an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside the home alone. The anxiety is caused by fearing no easy means of escape or help if intense anxiety develops. Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to fear another attack and avoid the place where it occurred. For some people, agoraphobia may be so severe that they're unable to leave home.

No matter what type of phobia you have, it's likely to produce the following reactions:

  • A feeling of uncontrollable panic, terror or dread when you're exposed to the source of your fear
  • The feeling that you must do everything possible to avoid what you fear
  • The inability to function normally because of your anxiety
  • Physical as well as psychological reactions, including sweating, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, a feeling of panic and intense anxiety
  • Often, the knowledge that your fears are unreasonable or exaggerated but feeling powerless to control them
  • In some cases, anxiety just thinking about what you fear
  • In children, possibly tantrums, clinging or crying

When to see a doctor

An unreasonable fear can be an annoyance — having to take the stairs instead of an elevator, for instance — but it isn't considered a phobia unless it seriously disrupts your life. If anxiety affects your ability to function at work or socially, consider seeking medical or psychological treatment. Most people can be helped with the right therapy.

Feb. 08, 2014

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