Phobias are extreme, irrational fears of specific objects or situations. A person suffering from a phobia may experience disproportionately uncomfortable emotions such as panic or dread when confronted by the object of their phobia. These emotions can range from mild discomfort to debilitating fear and anxiety. No matter the severity, phobias can seriously impact an individual’s life and interfere with work, school, and social relationships.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, about 19 million Americans suffer from one or more phobias. Phobias are usually caused by an experience of high stress intertwined with the object of the phobia. For example, some panic while flying in a plane. Though it is possible to have a phobia of virtually anything, some phobias are more common than others. Acrophobia, aerophobia, claustrophobia, agoraphobia and mysophobia are among the most common phobias that millions of people suffer from each day.
Acrophobia (Fear of Heights)
A person who suffers from acrophobia is afraid of heights in general. When confronted with a situation that involves being off the ground in any capacity, the acrophobic will panic and become anxious. Because of this, most people who suffer from acrophobia will go to great lengths to avoid mountains, balconies, towers or top floors of tall buildings. Acrophobia may make an individual feel sweaty and lightheaded, possibly even dizzy; however, acrophobia should not be confused with vertigo, an actual physical condition that causes dizziness, lightheadedness and disorientation.
Famous acrophobia sufferers: Liam Neeson, Sheryl Crow
Aerophobia (Fear of Flying)
Also sometimes known as aviophobia, a person with aerophobia experiences feelings of extreme fear, anxiety or dread when faced with the possibility of air travel. Aerophobia can be an offshoot of acrophobia, since the altitude at which a plane must fly is indeed a very great height; however, it can also exist independently as a phobia of flying in and of itself. Some aerophobics’ fear is deeply rooted in an unsettling life event, such as witnessing a plane crash or having a relative or friend who was involved in a crash, while other sufferers of aerophobia fear flying for no apparent reason at all.
Famous aerophobia sufferers: Aretha Franklin, Whoopi Goldberg
Claustrophobia (Fear of Enclosed Spaces)
A claustrophobic individual experiences symptoms on par with an anxiety attack when confronted with situations including, but not limited to, a crowded elevator or commuter train, a small, windowless room, a low-ceilinged space, or anywhere else that could potentially make him of her feel closed-in. Claustrophobics will take extreme measures to avoid any small spaces and other anxiety triggers. For instance, an individual with claustrophobia will prefer to take the stairs, regardless of how many flights they have to climb, in order to avoid getting into an elevator.
Famous claustrophobia sufferers: Uma Thurman, Drew Barrymore, Matthew McConaughey
Agoraphobia (Fear of Public Places)
Often depicted in movies as a fear of leaving one’s house, agoraphobia can actually range from a mild fear of crowded public places to a full-blown unwillingness to go out in public. People who suffer from agoraphobia have a hard time feeling safe in public places, especially those with big crowds, such as a festival or parade. The fear that there is no easy way to escape the crowded public area in the event of a disaster causes extreme anxiety in the agoraphobic individual, and can bring on a panic attack. Further complicating the matter, if an agoraphobic individual experiences an anxiety attack in a particular location, they are likely to then experience intense anxiety about that specific place and avoid going to it, and other places like it, in the future.
Famous agoraphobics: Howard Hughes, Brian Wilson, Macaulay Culkin
Mysophobia (Fear of Germs)
In the age of the super-bacteria, the fear of germs known as mysophobia (also commonly referred to as germophobia or bacteriophobia) is on the rise. Mysophobics believe that the world is covered in germs, and spend a disproportionate amount of time excessively cleaning their homes and bodies to avoid becoming contaminated. A mysophobic individual may wash their hands so often that the skin becomes dry, red and cracked, or wear protective gear like a face mask before leaving the house during flu season. Unlike a compulsive cleaning disorder, mysophobia is characterized by an individual’s concern with sterilization or disinfection of surfaces rather than how tidy or orderly they appear. People who suffer from mysophobia tend to think about germs, contamination and diseases all the time, which can severely impact their ability to function.
Famous mysophobics: Michael Jackson, Howie Mandel
Phobias often take over one’s life, yet they are among the most treatable disorders. I use Heart Assisted Therapy (HAT) to treat phobias and the process is usually very efficient and effective. I have helped many people with all kinds of phobias.
If you suffer from one or more phobias and feel as though your life is being impacted or limited by your fears, take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone and help is available. I would be happy to help you overcome your fears and reclaim your life. Contact my office today to schedule a therapy consultation to begin your journey toward a phobia-free future.