Understanding Fear: What Are Phobias?


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Understanding Fear: What Are Phobias and How Common Are They?

Phobia – From the Greek: φόβος, Phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”
Phobias: a persistent (and often irrational) fear of an object or situation.
Greek physician Hippocrates (470-410 B.C.E.) first described phobias
500 years after Hippocrates, Roman doctor, Celsus used the word hydrophobia for a patient who feared water.

400: number of phobias recognized by the medical profession.


Top 10 Phobias

Percent of US Population
1 Fear of public speaking – Glossophobia 74 %
2 Fear of death – Necrophobia 68 %
3 Fear of spiders – Arachnophobia 30.5 %
4 Fear of darkness – Achluophobia, Scotophobia or Myctophobia 11 %
5 Fear of heights – Acrophobia 10 %
6 Fear of people or social situations – Sociophobia 7.9 %
7 Fear of flying – Aerophobia 6.5 %
8 Fear of confined spaces – Claustrophobia 2.5 %
9 Fear of open spaces – Agoraphobia 2.2 %
10 Fear of thunder and lightning – Brontophobia 2 %

3 Categories of Phobias

Specific Phobias

Persistent fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation. (examples: Spiders, Flying, Water, Heights, or contracting a specific illness)
Typical age of onset: 7
Affects: 19.2 million American adults age 18 and over.

Fear and Worry Statistics

Percent of things feared that will never take place 60 %
Percent of things feared that happened in the past and can’t be changed 30 %
Percent of things feared that are considered to be insignificant issues 90 %
Percent of things feared in relation to health that will not happen 88 %


AKA Social Anxiety Disorder: a persistent fear of being judged, watched and criticized by others, or of public situations leading to embarrassment or humiliation.
Typical age of onset: 13
Affects: 15 million American adults age 18 and over.
The lifetime prevalence rate for developing social anxiety disorder is between 13 and 14 percent.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
People suffering from social anxiety disorder can experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:
• Being introduced to new people
• Being in large groups of people
• Being teased or criticized
• Being the center of attention
• Being watched while doing something
• Meeting authority figures
• Most social encounters, especially with strangers
• Going around the room, or table, in a circle and having to say something
• Eating or drinking in front of others
• Writing or working in front of others
• Being the center of attention. Interacting with people, including dating or going to parties
• Asking questions or giving reports in groups
• Using public toilets
• Talking on the telephone

Physiological Symptoms
The physiological symptoms that can accompany social anxiety may include:
• Constant and intense anxiety
• Intense fear
• Racing heart
• Turning red or blushing
• Excessive sweating
• Dry throat and mouth
• Trembling
• Swallowing with difficulty
• Muscle twitches
• Panic attack


Agoraphobia: intense fear and anxiety of any place or situation where escape might be difficult, leading to avoidance of such situations. (example: Traveling in a car, bus, airplane, elevator, or being in a crowded area)
Typical age of onset: 20
Affects: 1.8 million American adults age 18 and over.

Diagnostic criteria for agoraphobia include a severe fear or anxiety about two or more of the following situations:
• Using public transportation, such as a bus, plane or car
• Being in an open space, such as a parking lot, bridge or large mall
• Being in an enclosed space, such as a movie theater, meeting room or small store
• Waiting in a line or being in a crowd
• Being out of the home alone

Celebrity Phobias

Scarlett Johansson: Ornithophobia – The fear of birds.
Orlando Bloom: Swinophobia – The fear of pigs.
Megan Fox: Bacteriaphobia – The fear of germs and bacteria.
Billy Bob Thornton: Chromophobia – The Fear of bright colors.
Madonna: Astraphobia – The fear of thunder and lightning.
Oprah Winfrey: Chiclephobia – The fear of chewing-gum.
Nicole Kidman: Lepidopterophobia – The fear of butterflies.

Phobias You May Not Have Heard Of

Anablephobia- Fear of looking up
Anuptaphobia- Fear of staying single.
Bibliophobia- Fear of books.
Cathisophobia- Fear of sitting
Ephebiphobia- Fear of teenagers.
Genuphobia- Fear of knees
Hellenologophobia- Fear of Greek terms or complex scientific terminology.
Helminthophobia- Fear of being infested with worms
Logizomechanophobia- Fear of computers.
Meningitophobia- Fear of brain disease.
Omphalophobia- Fear of belly buttons.
Phobophobia- Fear of phobias or fear.