What is a phobia?

A phobia is medically classified as a type of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience extreme, irrational fear of or aversion to an object, situation, living creature or place.

How common are phobias?

The NHS suggests that phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder, estimating that around 10 million people in the UK have a phobia.

How phobias are created
Phobias are typically created by environmental factors, such as traumatic or distressing experiences. This might include a frightening encounter with a particular object or situation. For example, someone who was once bitten by a dog may develop a phobia of all dogs.
You will have no doubt observed how children can interpret everyday situations with such drama and animation. When a youngster tells a funny story, they may giggle so much that they can hardly speak. Conversely, when they recount a scary experience, they often describe it in the most exaggerated way possible. This heightened perspective on the world allows children to fully immerse themselves in magical fantasies, but it can also contribute to the development of anxiety and phobias.
Once a phobia is established, it can be reinforced by avoidance behaviours, which can make the fear even stronger over time. For example, someone with a fear of flying may avoid aeroplanes, which can reduce their anxiety in the short term but also reinforces the belief that flying is dangerous and should be avoided.
Now, think of a muscle in your arm – the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Similarly, phobias can be compared to this analogy. Every time you think about the thing you fear or are triggered in some way, you are exercising that ‘phobic muscle’.  As a result, the fear may seem to be intensifying because you have become hypersensitive to it.


Phobias can also be learnt by:
  1. Observational learning: A person may develop a phobia by observing someone else’s fearful reaction to an object or situation. For instance, if a child observes their parent having a panic attack in an elevator, they may develop a phobia of elevators.
  2. Informational learning: A person may develop a phobia by hearing or reading about a potential danger or threat associated with the object or situation. For example, if a person hears about someone being attacked by a shark, they may develop a phobia of swimming in the ocean. 

Overcoming a phobia

Overcoming a phobia is entirely possible, no matter what your specific fear may be. To achieve this, you’ll need to work on changing the way you interpret the events that led to your phobia’s development. As you begin to shift your perception, you’ll notice a change in how you feel.

One effective way to challenge your phobia is by gathering evidence that supports a positive outlook on the object or situation you fear. With determination and perseverance, you can follow in the footsteps of many others who have successfully overcome their fears.

Living with a phobia can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, our belief is, ‘it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you’. With this philosophy, we believe that everyone can successfully overcome their phobia if given the right help and support. Read more…