Everybody has something they’re afraid of. From a young age, we all have fears that we may carry with us as we grow older, and even then, new fears can still be formed in our minds. However, when these fears start to become excessive and irrational, to the point where we can’t function normally anymore because of how much we worry about them, how much we avoid them, and how much we panic when we encounter them – that’s when the fear becomes a phobia (APA, 2013).
A recent survey from the National Institute of Mental Health (2017) found that over 10% of adults in the United States in a given year struggle with phobias.This makes phobias the most common psychiatric illness among women and second most common among men. The American Psychological Association (2013) classifies phobias into three types: social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobias. Specific phobiasare further grouped into five major categories: environment, situational, animal, blood/injection/injury, and others.
Here are the 7 most common phobias we have:
Currently, the most common phobia in the world is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. It affects over 3.5-6.1% of the global population, which rounds out to approximately 300-400 million people each year (Bourdon, et al., 2008). Women are two times more likely to have arachnophobia than men, but 55% of people may harbor a fear of spiders to some degree.Researchers believe that arachnophobia may be rooted in our evolution, as our ancestors from the Dark Ages feared spiders for their frightening appearance and saw them as threats of food and water contamination (Ohman& Mineka, 2001).
Ophidiophobia (or the fear of snakes) is the second most widespread kind of specific phobia, with almost 1 out of every adult all over the globe reported to be suffering from it (Roach, 2001). Similar to arachnophobia, the fear of snakes is believed to be rotted in a person’s primitive need to survive, as snakes are typically seen as a vicious and dangerous animal. However, personal experiences and cultural influences may also play a part, as studies have shown that in places where snakes are less common, more cases of Ophidiophobia were reported (Ceriaco, 2012).
Affecting more than 6% of people from all around the globe, Acrophobia (or the fear of heights)is another common phobia a lot of us have (Bourdon, et al., 2008).Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense why we’d learn to be afraid of heights. Researchers believe that this phobia may be the result of an evolutionary adaptation that keeps us from falling to our deaths. However, if it gets out of hand, it may lead us to avoid bridges, towers, and other high placesfor fear of triggering a panic attack.
Aerophobia refers to the fear of flying, and it affects over 10-40% of American adults (Bourdon, et al., 2008). While it’s understandable to be afraid of flying, aerophobia is actually very irrational, given that airplane accidents are so rare and statistics report that travelling on plane is actually much safer than travelling by car (SBS News, 2018). Nonetheless, people with aerophobia avoid flights as much as they can, which can be a problem for their work or long-distance relationships.
While fear of spiders and snakes are much more common, Cynophobia (the fear of dogs) can be equally as debilitating, given how many pet and stray dogs there are in any given neighborhood. This makes it almost impossible to avoid them, so those with Cynophobia experience intense and frequent dread, anxiety, and even panic. Cynophobia may be due to a traumatic childhood experience (such as being bitten or chased by a dog) that’s never fully resolved.
Next is Trypanophobia, the fear of injections. While it’s normal to be afraid of injections when we’re little, statistics report that approximately 20-30% of adults can’t get over this fear and later go on to become trypanophobic. People with Trypanophobia avoid medical treatments, hospitals, and doctors, which is an incredible risk to one’s health. This fear can be so intense that most would faint at the mere sight of a needle. Interestingly enough, Trypanophobia is the only kind of specific phobia that is found to run in families (Diehl, 2005).
Lastly, another common phobia a lot of people share is mysophobia or the fear of germs. The term was first coined in 1879 by psychologist William Hammond, who believed that mysophobia was a symptom of OCD (Hammond, 1879). However, it has since then been discovered that most people who have mysophobia aren’t actually OCD. Mysophobia can manifest as excessive cleaning, compulsive hand-washing, and avoidance of bacteria and germs (by wearing gloves, face masks, etc.). In extreme cases, Mysophobiacan cause people to shut themselves in their house and cut themselves off from other people for fear of being contaminated.
Acording to the American Psychological Association (2013), phobias typically emerge during childhood or adolescence, and persist into adulthood. It’s more likely for a person to have multiple phobias thanjust one, and some phobias are more common than others (like the ones mentioned here). Other common fears include: fear of storms, fear of lightning/thunder, fear of death, fear of the dark, fear of clowns, fear of dolls, and fear of enclosed spaces.
A specific phobia is characterized by intense fear and avoidance behaviors that can negatively impact a person’s life. Fortunately, though, all phobias are treatable, usually with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (Antony, 2000).So if you’re suffering from a phobia yourself, it’s best to seek out a mental healthcare professional and get the help you need.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.5th Ed. Washington, DC, USA:APA Publishing.
- National Institute of Mental Health (November 2017). Prevalence of Specific Phobias. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobias.shtml
- Bourdon, K.; Boyd, J.; Era, D.; Burns, B.; Thompson, J.; & Locke, B. (2008). Gender Differences in Phobias: A Community Survey. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Vol 2 (3): p.227-241.
- Ohman, A., & Mineka, S. (2001). Fears, Phobias, and Preparedness: Toward an Evolved Module of Fear and Learning. Psychological Review, Vol. 108 (3); p.483-522. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X. 108.3. 483.
- Davey, G. C. (1994). The Disgusting Spider: The Role of Disease and Illness in the Perpetuation of Fear of Spiders. Society and Animals, Vol. 2 (1); p.17-25. doi: 10.1163/156853094X00045.
- Roach, J. (2001). Fear of Snakes, Spiders – Rooted in Evolution, Study Finds. National Geographic News.
- Ceriaco, L. (2012). Human Attitudes Towards Herpetofauna: The Influence of Folklore and Negative Values on the Conservation of Aphibians and Reptiles in Portugal. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. Vol. 8 (1): p.8. doi: 10.1186/1746-4269-8-8.
- Hammond, W. A. (1879). Neurological Contributions. Putnam, 40 – via Google Books.
- Sperry, L. (2015). Mental Health and Mental Disorders: An Encyclopedia of Conditions, Treatments, and Well-Being. ABC-CLIO. p430. ISBN 9781440803833.
- Antony, M. (2000). Phobic Disorders and Panic in Adults: A Guide to Assessment and Treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.