Explains phobias, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family

What are phobias?

Fear is a form of anxiety triggered by a situation or an object. We know what it’s like to be afraid in certain situations and change our behaviour accordingly – avoiding dark alleys and standing back from the edge of a cliff. These are understandable responses to situations where we might be harmed. When there is a real threat, for example if you are about to be attacked, fear is a sensible and realistic response, and your body will release adrenaline and prepare for ‘fight or flight’.

A fear becomes a phobia when you have an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation (eg. going outside) or object (eg. buttons). You will often begin to organise your life around avoiding the thing that is causing you anxiety.

What are the symptoms?

If you have a phobia, you usually won’t have any symptoms until you face the situation or object that you fear. If your phobia is very severe, then even thinking about the object of your phobia can provoke anxiety. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of phobia are in the diagram below.


These symptoms can make you feel more anxious, which releases more adrenaline (see above), and this vicious circle can lead to a full-blown panic attack. Although these feelings will pass, you may feel stressed and frightened by them, and this can make you feel out of control and overwhelmed. Afterwards, you may feel depressed and embarrassed about it. All this may make you nervous and anxious about being on your own and having to cope with such an experience.

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