A type of anxiety involving persistent, irrational or an exaggerated fear of a particular object, situation, activity, setting, or even a bodily function (all of which are not basically dangerous nor an appropriate source for anxiety. Most people with phobias recognize that the fear is inappropriate to the situation. Phobias are classified as:

  • Social (fear of embarrassment in social situations such as public speaking and/or performing or using public bathrooms).
  • Agoraphobia (fear of being alone or fear of public places).
  • Simple (fear of a particular stimulus such as animals, insects, flying, heights [acrophobia], closed places [claustrophobia, etc).

Anxiety symptoms occur when exposed to, or thinking of the phobic stimulus:

  • Palpitations.
  • Sweating.
  • Tremors.
  • Flushing.
  • Nausea.
  • Experiencing negative thoughts and scary images.


Exact cause is unknown. Possibly a learned response (conditioning) such as being raised by someone with a similar fear or having an early frightening experience that has become associated with the object or situation. Other theories focus on the phobia as having a symbolic meaning.


  • Family history of anxiety.
  • Separation anxiety in childhood.
  • Presence of another psychiatric disorder.
  • Perfectionist type individual.


No specific measure to prevent the phobia. Techniques are available to prevent or control the reaction.


  • Simple phobias – some spontaneously stoop as a person ages; others don’t cause impairment if the object can be avoided (such as fear of snakes); for some phobias, the people struggle through their fearful situations (such as flying); and others can be cured with treatment.
  • Social phobias – may be overcome with treatment; medication is often helpful.
  • Agoraphobia – person becomes more and more homebound without treatment (is often associated with panic disorder).


  • Chronic stress can play a role in many health problems including accidents, arthritis, asthma, cancer, colds, colitis, diabetes mellitus, endocrine disorders, fatigue, headaches, backaches, digestive lifestyle constrictions brought on by avoidance of the phobia stimulus. Agoraphobia in particular restricts an individual’s activities and is severely disabling.
  • Dependence on drugs or alcohol to overcome anxiety.