Phobias are a kind of anxiety disorder triggered by a specific situation or physical thing. The fear and anxiety that results from contact with a phobia is severe, and may lead sufferers to go to great lengths to avoid their phobias. When people are unable to avoid regular contact with their phobias, it may greatly inhibit their ability to function at work or in their personal life.
People experience phobias of a great many things, but there are certain experiences or things that generate phobias in large numbers of people. Here is a look at some of the most common phobias from which people may suffer.
Acrophobia – Fear of Heights
Acrophobia, or fear of heights, is a very common phobia. Depending on the severity of the phobia, acrophobes may fear everything from being on the upper floors of a tall building to climbing a ladder. Being at heights will cause sufferers to experience classic anxiety symptoms such as heart palpitations, shaking, and sweating. Acrophobics may also experience feelings of vertigo (although vertigo is a separate medical problem) or lose trust in their own sense of balance. Descending as quickly as possible is usually crucial to overcoming these feelings of anxiety. However, sufferers may feel frozen, or too frightened to move quickly from the situation that is causing them distress.
Arachnophobia – Fear of Spiders
Arachnophobia is more common in women, but it does affect men in large numbers as well. Psychologists have speculated that a phobia of spiders arises from an evolutionary instinct – most spiders are venomous, although very few are dangerous to humans. Others speculate that arachnophobia comes more from common cultural misconceptions about spiders than from any real threat.
Arachnophobes may be unable to deal with spiders that appear in their home, and may even resort to leaving the house if no one is available to assist them. They may also avoid outdoor activities such as camping that put them at greater risk of coming into contact with spiders.
Ophidiophobia – Fear of Snakes
Speculations about the causes of ophidiophobia generally run along the same lines as the possible origins of arachnophobia. Ophidiophobes are likely to avoid the same kinds of outdoor pursuits as arachnophobes, but, fortunately for them, snakes are much less likely than spiders to visit a home uninvited.
Agoraphobia – Fear of Having a Panic Attack in Public
Agoraphobia can be one of the more difficult phobias to understand, because it can manifest in different ways for different people. Essentially, agoraphobia is the fear of being in a situation from which it would be difficult to escape. This may include crowded rooms from which there are limited exits, or open spaces in which the sufferer feels uncomfortably exposed. It may be impossible for agoraphobes to travel on public transportation such as subway trains or buses. Severe agoraphobes may reach the point of being unable to leave their own home without anxiety.
Mysophobia – Fear of Germs
Mysophobia is an extreme fear of dirt and of germs. Mysophobes will do their best to avoid any exposure to germs, and take measures to clean and disinfect themselves if they believe they have been exposed to germs. When in public, they often carry sanitizing gel or wipes, and will wash their hands frequently. They may wear gloves and refuse to make direct hand-to-hand contact with other people, or make contact with objects that are likely to have been touched by other people. When mysophobia is extremely severe it can, like agoraphobia, prevent the sufferer from being able to leave his or her own home without anxiety.
Mysophobia may be easily confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD,) and the two conditions often occur simultaneously. However, the motivations behind similar symptoms such as frequent hand washing are different with the two conditions; OCD sufferers are concerned with the repetitive act itself, while mysophobes are specifically attempting to eradicate germs.
Cynophobia – Fear of Dogs
Cynophobia differs from other animal-specific phobias such as arachnophobia and ophidiophobia in that it generally arises from a specific dog-related incident, often during childhood. Dog-centered phobias are not as common as spider and snake phobias, but in many ways they can be more challenging to live with, due to the high likelihood of encountering dogs in day-to-day life. Cynophobia can limit a person’s ability to make friends, or even interact with family members who have dogs.