How do you know if you have a phobia?

Phobia is a word that we use regularly in everyday language. So how do you know if you actually have a phobia?

A phobia involves a strong fear and avoidance of a particular object or situation. When faced with the object or situation the person feels extreme anxiety or terror. Sometimes anxiety can even occur without direct contact with the object or situation, for example, seeing pictures, thinking about or discussing the object or situation.

When someone has a phobia the fear and anxiety that the person feels is usually out of proportion to the actual threat. Typically people with phobias are able to recognise that their reaction is irrational or extreme in some way, but their response feels very automatic and uncontrollable.

When someone has a phobia they experience panic symptoms only in the context of the object or situation they fear. They do not experience spontaneous panic attacks (like someone does when they have Panic Disorder) and they do not fear having panic attacks. When a person feels phobic about social situations they are usually considered to have a social anxiety, rather than a phobia per se.

Back of man sitting at desk, staring out of window

Common phobias include:

  • Fear of heights
  • Doctor or dentist phobias
  • Injection phobia
  • Fear of vomiting
  • Blood or injury phobia
  • Animal phobias (such as spiders, snakes or dogs)
  • Fear of thunder and/or lightning
  • Fear of enclosed spaces
  • Fear of flying

What is a Specific Phobia or Simple Phobia?

The official terms used when diagnosing a phobia are Simple Phobia or Specific Phobia. To meet the diagnosis for a Specific Phobia or Simple Phobia you need to experience the following symptoms:

  • An irrational, ongoing and extreme reaction to a particular object or situation
  • Going to great lengths to avoid the feared object or situation. If avoidance is not possible, enduring being faced with the object or situation but with a significant amount of distress
  • The above two symptoms need to interfere with a person’s ability to function at work/school, home or in relationships

When should I seek help for a phobia?

The impact of phobias can vary from person to person. For some people their phobia is a side issue in their life, rarely becoming relevant. Other people organise their life around avoiding their phobia (for example, avoiding flying or cancelling medical appointments) or when they are forced to face their phobic situation it feels unbearably distressing.

When deciding whether to seek help about your phobia it can be useful to ask yourself, “If I didn’t have this phobia, how would my life look different?” If your life would look significantly different consider seeing a psychologist. Effective psychological treatments are available and, when used in phobia therapy, can significantly reduce or even eliminate the impact of your phobia on your life.

Effective psychological phobia treatments are available

Phobia doesn’t have to rule your life. There is a lot we can do to help.

Book an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists.