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intense fears that can disrupt daily life and cause significant distress

Imagine being so scared of something that it stops you from doing stuff you normally enjoy. That is what phobias can be like. Whether it’s seeing a spider, going into a crowd or even just stepping outside, phobias can be different for everyone. They all have one thing in common: they can take over and disrupt your daily life. 

Phobias are not just about being scared or nervous; they are a specific type of anxiety disorder. They are also a lot more common than you think. The NHS estimates that 10 million people living with phobias in the UK, making it the most common form of anxiety .

Phobias come from lots of different things, but it can lead to serious mental health conditions like depression. They can make you feel alone, but it’s important to know that you’re not. With support, you can learn to deal with your fears and take back control of your life. 

Common myths about phobias

phobias are just a sign of weakness

Phobias are not a choice; they stem from complex interactions between genetic, environmental and psychological factors. 

facing your phobia head-on is the best way to overcome it

While exposure may be effective, it should be done gradually and with professional guidance to avoid being overwhelming. 

phobias are always illogical

While some phobias may seem irrational from an outside perspective, they often stem from past experiences or learned behaviours that trigger intense fear responses. 


There is not a single cause for phobias. Some of it comes from your genes, which may include traits you inherit from your family. It can also be how your brain is wired. Sometimes how your brain works makes you anxious about things that other people might consider ‘normal’. 

In most cases, phobias come from things you’ve experienced. For instance, being bullied when you were younger could lead you to have a fear of social interactions or having financial worries could lead you to have a fear of spending money. It could also come from previous traumatic experiences.


When you have a phobia, your body goes into panic mode. You might:

  • Become anxious: You may feel a powerful sense of worry or fear because of these intrusive thoughts.
  • Rapid heartbeat: Your heart might start racing, feeling like it’s in a hurry.
  • Excessive sweating: Your body might produce more sweat than usual, making your palms feel wet.
  • Urge to escape: You might have a strong impulse to get away from whatever is triggering your fear, even if it seems harmless to others.

Types of phobias 

Phobias can be categorised as either simple or complex but there are specific types. These can include animal, environment, medical and situational phobias.

Simple Phobias

Simple phobias, also called specific phobias, are when you feel intense and have an irrational fear about specific things. When you come across these things, you might feel immediate anxiety or panic. People with simple phobias often try hard to avoid them, which can affect how they live day-to-day.

Among the most common in the UK are: 

  • Acrophobia: Fear of heights 
  • Aerophobia: Fear of flying 
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders 
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces 
  • Hemophobia: Fear of blood 
  • Trypanophobia: Fear of needles or injections 

Complex Phobias:

Complex phobias are more complicated fears that usually involve social or environmental environments. Unlike simple phobias that focus on specific triggers, complex phobias make you feel anxious or scared about more general situations or places. The two most common complex phobias are:

  • Agoraphobia: Fear of open or crowded spaces.
  • Social Phobia (also known as social anxiety): Fear of social situations.

What should I do?

If you find yourself grappling with a phobia, it’s crucial to prioritise seeking support from a mental health professional. They have the expertise to guide you through understanding your fear and creating personalised strategies to manage it effectively. Here are some steps you can take: 

Acknowledge your fear

Recognise that your phobia is valid and deserving of attention. Try not to play down or dismiss your feelings. 

Educate yourself 

Learn about your specific phobia and its potential triggers. Knowledge can empower you to confront and cope with your fear more effectively. You can learn more about phobias on the NHS Inform website. 

Seek professional help

Reach out to a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counsellor, who specialises in anxiety disorders. They can provide you with tailored guidance and evidence-based interventions. 

Practice self-care:

Engage in activities that promote relaxation and wellbeing, such as exercise, mindfulness and hobbies you enjoy. Taking care of your overall mental and physical health can enhance your resilience in facing your phobia. 

How do I support others?

If you have a friend or loved one with a phobia, your empathy and support can play a pivotal role in their journey of dealing with it better. Here are some ways you can assist them: 

Listen non-judgmentally

Create a safe and non-judgmental space for people to express their fears and concerns. Avoid minimising or invalidating their experiences.

Encourage professional help

Gently encourage them to seek assistance from a mental health professional who specialises in treating anxiety disorders. Offer to assist them in finding suitable resources or accompany them to appointments if they feel comfortable.

Be patient

Understand that overcoming a phobia is a gradual process that requires time and effort. Be patient and supportive as they navigate their fears and get treatment.

Respect their boundaries

Respect their boundaries when discussing their phobia or engaging in activities that may trigger anxiety. Avoid pressuring them to confront their fear before they’re ready. However, also remember to respect your boundaries as well.


Our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.

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