So what’s a phobia? A dislike of something? A terror of it? Can it still be a phobia if it’s something a bit random, like balloons? The Mix is here to give you all the answers.

Man screaming

If you have a phobia of massive open mouths, we can only apologise.

What’s a phobia?

A phobia is far bigger than simply having a fear of something. A phobia is something you’re so frightened of that it interferes with your life. You avoid situations that could expose you to it, change plans to avoid it, and it affects your social life, relationships and friendships.

Types of phobia

Roughly, phobias come in two types.

A ‘specific’ phobia is being terrified of one thing – dogs, dentists, frogs or balloons (yes, very random things still count as phobias). Specific phobias are often formed in childhood and can be triggered by a one-off incident, i.e. you’re phobic of dogs after being bitten by a dog.

Complex phobias often have anxiety at their root and can make you feel terrified of certain circumstances or situations, resulting in:

  • Social phobia: the fear of social situations
  • Agoraphobia: the fear of being away from what your brain considers to be a safe place
  • Panic disorder: the fear that a certain situation or place might give you a panic attack

These types of phobia tend to have more complex origins than specific phobias and may be based on multiple triggers throughout your life. They’re also more likely to begin when you’re a teenager or young adult.

How do I get help for a phobia?

Treatments for phobias vary from person to person, so it’s best to talk to your GP to discuss what will suit you.

“If you’re not ready to talk to a GP about it, speak to a school or college counsellor or nurse, or a learning mentor,” says clinical psychologist Dr Justine Mahon.

The most common treatment is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Medication is sometimes used, though the general view is that it should only be alongside talking therapies.

What does phobia treatment involve?

Setting goals

When you’re having therapy, you’ll set small, specific goals to work towards with your therapist to ensure you feel like you’re progressing. “You may want to go to the park with your friends but you’re phobic of frogs, so we’ll work towards a day when you’re able to do that,” says Dr Justine.

Facing your fear

Treatment for specific phobias will gradually get you used to the ‘stimulus’ so you’ll learn to tolerate your phobia. So, for example, first you’ll see pictures of what you’re phobic of then you’ll watch a video until you’re ready to be exposed to the real thing.

What can I do to help myself?

There’s an increasing amount of help online for panic attacks and phobias – try your app store to see what’s available and look at our guide to online therapy.

“Not drinking too much, avoiding drugs, doing some physical exercise and being social with your friends can all really help,” says Dr Justine. “And use computers to connect with friends rather than using them to withdraw into your own world.”

Is it possible to be ‘cured’ forever of a phobia?

The great news is that you might well just grow out of it. “Anxiety disorders that people have when they’re young are often grown out of too once the person moves away from home, leaves school or just gets a bit more comfortable in their own skin and life,” says Dr Justine.

But for some people, it’s more a case of managing the phobia than leaving it behind. “That may include making sure you’re not avoiding whatever you’re phobic of, e.g. going to a busy park when you’re scared of dogs, or keeping a picture of your phobia up so you know you’re not going back to avoidance,” says Dr Justine.

Am I the only one like this?

Don’t tell us, you’re convinced when you look round at a party you’re the only one feeling like this. You’re maybe embarrassed, even ashamed, and you’re sure that no one else has anything as odd going on inside their head as you do…

Well, basically, you’re wrong. Your teens and early 20s are actually the time when anxiety is most likely to rear its head. There are almost definitely people around you – friends, people at college, workmates – going through similar problems. You’re not alone, and you don’t need to feel ashamed.

Photo of open mouth by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Caroline Corcoran

Updated on 29-Sep-2015