The Psychology Behind Phobias

While you've probably experienced fear in your life, it's more than likely nothing compared to the anxiety people with a specific phobia feel when they are forced to confront the source of their fear.

Many people claim to have a phobia, but according to this infographic from CollegeAtlas.org, only 8.7% of Americans have been clinically diagnosed with one.

In order to be diagnosed with a phobia, you must participate in a clinical interview and meet certain criteria determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. This criteria includes:

  • An intense fear or anxiety triggered by an object or situation, such as snakes, flying or storms.
  • An immediate anxiety response when you confront the source of your fear.
  • Fear or anxiety that is irrational or out of proportion to the rest posted by the object or situation.
  • Avoidance of the object or situation you fear, or endurance of it with extreme distress.
  • Significant distress or problems with social activities, work or other areas of your life due to the fear, anxiety or avoidance.
  • Persistent phobia and avoidance, usually lasting 6 months or longer.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder and differ from generalized anxiety disorders because the anxiety is only experienced when you are faced with the specific object/situation feared. People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder experience excessive, unrealistic worry almost constantly, even when there is little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.

The anxiety experienced when confronted by a phobia is also different from the anxiety experienced during a panic attack. People with panic disorders experience anxiety, known as panic attacks, with little reason or warning and strongly believe the anxiety is related to something that is medically wrong with them. Those experiencing anxiety from a phobia do no believe their anxiety is related to anything medically wrong with their body.

Regardless of whether you have a full-blown phobia or just a mild fear, it's never a pleasant experience when you are forced to encounter it.

You're not alone in your fears though. Here are some of the common (and not-so-common) phobias out there as well as some surprising statistics about them.

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