A specific phobia is a fear of a particular object or place which is so severe that it affects your way of life.
It is possible to develop a phobia for almost anything, but some of the most common phobias are fear of heights, fear of spiders or mice, fear of enclosed spaces (known as claustrophobia) and fear of blood or injections.
Many of us feel some anxiety about these things, perhaps realistically since if we did not fear heights, for example, we might have more accidents! But there is a difference between this ordinary reaction and a phobia, which results in a person going to extreme lengths to avoid the object or situation they fear.
For example, if you have a phobia for injections rather than just a natural dislike of them, you might be unable to go on holiday or travel on business to places where travel injections are required. You might also refuse blood tests even if you knew they were important for your health.
This is a much broader problem which can lead to people becoming too frightened to leave their home. Agoraphobia is often described as a fear of open spaces, but it is actually more helpful to think of it as a fear of being in places from which it is difficult to escape. This can include crowds and public places such as shops, cinemas, and public transport. Not surprisingly, if you have severe agoraphobia you can find yourself leading a very restricted life, which is why it is important to get help as soon as possible. Another aspect of agoraphobia is the fear of ‘behaving badly’ in public. For example, people worry that because of their anxiety they might faint, panic, rush out or do something embarrassing. For this reason agoraphobia is sometimes described as ‘fear of fear’.
If you have social phobia this means that you are extremely anxious about what other people will think of you, or how you will be judged by other people. As a result you may have great difficulty in social situations, such as eating or drinking in the presence of other people. One form of social phobia is severe anxiety about speaking or performing in public. It is quite common to feel rather nervous in these situations, especially when they are unfamiliar, but people with social phobia will find these activities impossible because of the degree of anxiety they experience. At the heart of social phobia is a person’s belief that other people will notice their anxiety and that this will make them look foolish or stupid.