6 Common Fears and Phobias

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Linda Childers on September 3, 2020
  • Woman Holding Sweater Up Over Mouth
    Conquering Your Worst Fears
    If the thought of air travel makes you break into a cold sweat, or if you hyperventilate thinking about snakes, you might be among the 19 million Americans who suffer from one of a group of extreme fears known as specific phobias. These fears may be irrational, but they can cause real physical symptoms including nausea or abdominal discomfort, sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, and a pounding heart. But fortunately, there are ways to fight back against these six widespread specific phobias.
  • Portrait of an African rock python
    Does the thought of coming face to face with a snake make you shudder? You’re not alone: A 2013 poll found Americans are more scared of snakes than any other animal. To scale down your sensitivity, experts recommend a technique known as exposure therapy, where you confront the object of your fear. You may start by looking at photos of a snake, and eventually progress to closely observing a pet snake in person or behind glass at the local zoo. You will also learn to replace anxious thoughts with more realistic beliefs.
  • Adult female leader presenting business ideas to her team
    Public Speaking
    Speaking to a crowd tops flying, sickness, and even death on the list of Americans’ most dreaded events. (As Jerry Seinfeld once joked, people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.) The good news is acceptance-based behavioral therapy, a technique that encourages people to approach their emotions and reactions as natural and normal, has been shown to be effective in helping people overcome public speaking anxiety. During therapy, you’ll be encouraged to think with curiosity and compassion rather than judgment, and to accept your experiences instead of trying to control them.
  • Moving up
    Confined Spaces
    Do you take the stairs to avoid the elevator, or walk a few extra blocks to stay off the subway? People with claustrophobia, a fear of confined spaces, may avoid underground trains, medical scanning machines, and other restricting environments. According to experts, 15 to 37% of people worldwide are affected by claustrophobia. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which patients learn relaxation and deep breathing, has been shown to help those with claustrophobia. In addition, CBT teaches how irrational thinking contributes to claustrophobia, and offers strategies to change thought patterns.
  • Big waves and spray
    Water, water everywhere—and for many people, that thought is terrifying. Experts say two-thirds of Americans are afraid of deep, open bodies of water and 46% are even afraid of the deep end of a pool. While traditional swim lessons don’t address fear of water, some specialized swim instruction programs do help adults conquer their distress and feel comfortable and safe in the water. 
  • Washing Hands
    When it comes to cold and flu season, it’s natural to be concerned about avoiding germs. But people with msyophobia have a constant obsession with avoiding and touching anything they perceive as contaminated. Treating msyophobia often involves taking an antidepressant to reduce obsessions and compulsions, combined with behavioral therapy. Through a technique called exposure and response prevention, patients gradually approach situations or items they fear, and slowly learn to accept and live with the risk that once threatened to consume them.
  • Airplane take off
    Traveling to exotic locations may sound like a dream, but for those who fear flying, boarding a plane can feel like a nightmare. Here again cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be a big help, giving anxious fliers coping tools to overcome their fears. In CBT, a therapist determines what triggers your specific anxiety when flying, whether it’s crashing or fearing a loss of control. Many airports also offer fear of flying classes that use virtual reality programs to simulate turbulence or rocky landings so fliers learn to feel more comfortable during the real thing.
6 Common Fears and Phobias
  1. Facts & Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  2. America’s Top Fears 2015. Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/
  3. Symptoms. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/specific-phobias/symptoms
  4. Animals and Pets Poll; Americans Prefer Dogs, Fear Snakes. Public Policy Polling. http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2013/06/animals-and-pets-poll-american-prefer-dogs-fear-snak...
  5. Overcoming Animal and Insect Phobias. AnxietyCoach.com. http://www.anxietycoach.com/support-files/overcoming-animal-phobias.pdf
  6. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science 1 (2012) 66–72, www.elsevier.com/locate/jcbs
  7. Claustrophobia. Mount Sinai Hospital. http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/claustrophobia
  8. Fear Substantially Limits the Market for pools and participation in athletic activity. National Swimming Pool Foundation. http://www.nspf.com/en/blog/12-08-08/Fear_substantially_limits_the_market_for_pools_and_participatio...
  9. Panic Control Treatment and Its Applications. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330525/
  10. OCD and Contamination. International OCD Foundation. https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/expert-opinion-contamination/
  11. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treatment. National Alliance on Mental Illiness.https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-Disorder/Treatment
  12. How can I overcome my fear of flying? Anxiety and Depression Society of America. http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/ask-expert/how-can-i-overcome-my-fear-of-flyin... 
  13. Exposure Therapies for Specific Phobias. Society of Clinical Psychology. https://www.div12.org/psychological-treatments/treatments/exposure-therapies-for-specific-phobias/
  14. Airports take on fear of flying. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2014/03/10/fear-of-flying-airports-airlines/6084677/
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Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 3
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