Phobias are fears sparked by certain situations that can interfere with a person's coping abilities or lead them to stay away altogether. These situations are not normally dangerous or frightening, but people with phobias experience strong feelings of anxiety when they find themselves in these environments. 1 in 10 people will experience phobias at some point in their lives. These individuals can be calm and rational most of the time, yet find themselves paralyzed with fear when they are faced with a particular situation.
Phobias can be categorized into a number of different types:
- Social phobia is an avoidance of social situations, resulting from extreme shyness or fear of being embarrassed in public. Social phobia affects men and women equally. It often starts in childhood or adolescence and may be accompanied by other anxiety disorders or depression.
- Agoraphobia is the fear of going into public places, including fear of open spaces and of crowds. Agoraphobia affects mostly women, who tend to develop the condition early in adult life.
- Specific (isolated) phobias include many types of intense fear reactions. These include:
- fear of animals (e.g., spiders [arachnophobia] or snakes [ophidiophobia])
- environmental fears (e.g., of heights [acrophobia], or water [aquaphobia ])
- situational fear (e.g., of enclosed spaces or elevators [claustrophobia])
- fear of injury (of potentially dangerous situations - real or imagined, such as fear of flying [aviophobia])
- other phobias (e.g., fear of loud noises)
Twice as many women are affected as men, and tend to develop their fears in childhood or early adolescence, with the phobias persisting into adulthood.