Surprising facts about phobias

The word ‘phobia’ gets thrown around a lot in conversation, but how well do we really understand them, and the affect they have? 

Far from being a silly fear, a genuine phobia can actually have a pretty big impact on someone’s life.

Specific phobias (phobias of a certain object or situation), aren’t actually that rare – in fact 8% of Australians have one.

So, we decided to gather together some facts about the topic.

#1. A fear and a phobia are not the same thing

You’d probably feel a bit scared and panicked if you saw a big hairy spider climbing up your wall or wobbly if you were standing on a high ledge. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a spider or height phobia.

Although it doesn’t feel very nice, fear and some level of anxiety are ‘normal’ emotional responses to either a real or perceived threat.

A specific phobia, on the other hand, is an overwhelming fear of objects or situations.

For example, if someone has a spider phobia, they might do everything they can to avoid spiders and it can even start to consume their life.

They may spend huge amounts of time thinking and worrying about spiders and avoiding places and activities where spiders might be, like the bush or walking outside at night.

#2. There are more than 400 phobias

You can have a phobia of pretty much anything, but there are over 400 recognised phobias out there!

Some, however, are much more common than others.

Phobias such as a fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of flying (aviophobia), fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), fear of spiders (arachnophobia), fear of snakes (ophidiophobia), fear of dogs (cynophobia), fear of needles (trypanophobia) and the fear of germs (mysophobia) are all pretty common.

#3. Some phobias may sound strange

There are also some rarer and seemingly strange phobias out there, like the fear of beautiful women (caligynephobia), fear of cheese (turophobia), and fear of developing a phobia (phobophobia).

Ironically, hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is a phobia of long words – no doubt this 15 syllable word was made up by someone not very nice!

There is even a phobia that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, a duck is watching you – called Anatidaephobia.

#4. Some phobias didn’t used to exist

While some phobias are as old as the hills, others are much more recent.

For example, there has been a big rise in nomophobia: the fear of not having your mobile phone on you.

Someone with nomophobia can feel intense anxiety if they have no phone signal, have run out of data or battery power, or even if their phone is out of sight.

With a recent study showing that many people under the age of 30 check their phone at least once every 10 minutes (or 96 times a day), we’re not totally surprised!

#5. Even celebs have phobias

It might surprise you, but a fair few well-known celebrities have phobias.

For a start, Christina Ricci has a fear of indoor plants (botanophobia) – she says that touching a dirty houseplant actually feels like torture.

Alfred Hitchcock also lived with a fear of eggs (ovophobia). People who worked with him claimed cracking an egg made him gag, and he once told a reporter “have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid?”

Highly awarded actor, producer and musician, Johnny Depp also has not one, but three phobias – clowns, spiders and ghosts.

#6. Phobias may be passed down in your DNA

Have you ever wondered how you get a phobia?

Sometimes a traumatic event can cause one such as nearly falling off a high ledge. They can also be learned – like picking up a fear of flying from listening to a parent swear they’ll never fly again after a bad experience.

But, what if you’ve never actually had a traumatic public speaking experience, but the very thought of public speaking still makes you struggle to catch a breath? Where does this come from?

As crazy as it sounds, experts say this could come down to an experience one of your ancestors had, which has been passed down in our DNA.

So if an ancestor was once laughed off a stage and then developed a public speaking phobia, research suggests this could be passed down for generations to come.

#7. Phobias can be treated

Fortunately, there are ways to treat specific phobias. To find the right treatment for you or someone you know, your best bet is to get the help of a medical professional.

One method that’s used very successfully under guidance is ‘exposure therapy’, a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).

This is when little by little you are presented with your phobia time and time again.

In the case of a insect phobia, you might start by just thinking about an insect, then move to looking at a picture of one, and then maybe being close to one, and over time possibly even holding a living one.

Do you think you have a phobia yourself?

It is important to remember that phobias are often very successfully treated. If you (or someone you know) could have a phobia, it’s a good idea to seek advice from a medical professional.

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.