The term ‘phobia’ is often used to refer to a fear of one particular trigger. However, there are three types of phobia recognised by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). These include:
This is an intense, irrational fear of a specific trigger.
Social phobia, or social anxiety
This is a profound fear of public humiliation and being singled out or judged by others in a social situation. The idea of large social gatherings is terrifying for someone with social anxiety. It is not the same as shyness.
This is a fear of situations from which it would be difficult to escape if a person were to experience extreme panic, such being in a lift or being outside of the home. It is commonly misunderstood as a fear of open spaces but could also apply to being confined in a small space, such as an elevator, or being on public transport. People with agoraphobia have an increase risk of panic disorder.
Specific phobias are known as simple phobias as they can be linked to an identifiable cause that may not frequently occur in the everyday life of an individual, such as snakes. These are therefore not likely to affect day-to-day living in a significant way.
Social anxiety and agoraphobia are known as complex phobias, as their triggers are less easily recognized. People with complex phobias can also find it harder to avoid triggers, such as leaving the house or being in a large crowd.
A phobia becomes diagnosable when a person begins organizing their lives around avoiding the cause of their fear. It is more severe than a normal fear reaction. People with a phobia have an overpowering need to avoid anything that triggers their anxiety.
A person with a phobia will experience the following symptoms. They are common across the majority of phobias:
a sensation of uncontrollable anxiety when exposed to the source of fear
a feeling that the source of that fear must be avoided at all costs
not being able to function properly when exposed to the trigger
acknowledgment that the fear is irrational, unreasonable, and exaggerated, combined with an inability to control the feelings
A person is likely to experience feelings of panic and intense anxiety when exposed to the object of their phobia. The physical effects of these sensations can include:
hot flushes or chills
a choking sensation
chest pains or tightness
butterflies in the stomach
pins and needles
confusion and disorientation
A feeling of anxiety can be produced simply by thinking about the object of the phobia. In younger children, parents may observe that they cry, become very clingy, or attempt to hide behind the legs of a parent or an object. They may also throw tantrums to show their distress.
A complex phobia is much more likely to affect a person’s wellbeing than a specific phobia.
For example, those who experience agoraphobia may also have a number of other phobias that are connected. These can include monophobia, or a fear of being left alone, and claustrophobia, a fear of feeling trapped in closed spaces.
In severe cases, a person with agoraphobia will rarely leave their home.