A fear becomes a phobia when you have to change your lifestyle to manage it. A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear or dread aroused by a particular object or circumstance, to the point where it severely restricts your life.

If you have a phobia, you’ll go to great lengths to avoid an object or situation that most people consider harmless.

Coming into contact, or even the thought of coming into contact, with the object of the phobia makes you panic.

But you don’t need to live with a phobia. All phobias are treatable, says Professor Isaac Marks of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “There’s no need for anyone to continue to suffer,” he says. “People can overcome phobias.”

Some phobias, such as the fear of snakes (ophiophobia), won’t usually affect everyday life, but others, such as agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces), can make it very hard to lead a normal life.

“People ask for help when a phobia starts to interfere with their life – for example, they may be forced to give up work because they can’t take public transport, or staying indoors to avoid meeting people,” says Marks.

“It’s a disabling condition that affects about 8% of the UK population at some point in their lives.”

Phobias can be specific – such as the fear of spiders, heights or dentists – or more generalised, such as the fear of open spaces, a fear of interacting with other people (social phobia) or even the dread of developing a phobia (phobophobia).

Most common phobias

The 10 most commonly reported phobias in the UK, according to a survey by Anxiety UK, are:

  • social phobia – fear of interacting with other people
  • agoraphobia – fear of open public spaces
  • emetophobia – fear of vomiting
  • erythrophobia – fear of blushing
  • driving phobia – fear of driving
  • hypochondria – fear of illness
  • aerophobia – fear of flying
  • arachnophobia – fear of spiders
  • zoophobia – fear of animals
  • claustrophobia – fear of confined spaces

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