Mental Health

What is a phobia? 2 major types

phobia Posted On
Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

Updated on August 24, 2022

Phobia explained

Phobia is an irrational fear and by definition disproportionate due to perception of danger, in the modern lexicon one speaks rather about a stress factor, I will explain why later.

Two major types of phobia

I distinguish two major types, specific phobia of situations, spaces, or objects, and complex phobia which triggers are less easily recognized and will have a more disruptive impact on live.

Specific phobia, the phobia of objects, creatures, or natural elements, have external causes; complex phobia, have internal causes.

phobia due to an external factor

Specific Phobia

Let’s start this analysis. Phobia due to external factors is quite easy to illustrate with cases like achmophobia, which is an excessive fear of sharp objects like knives or needles; opiophobia is, for example, the fear of snakes; and aquaphobia which is, for example, the fear of being in the water. In these phobias, the external factor is a factor that can easily be associated with danger or with elements that our ancestors may have seen as dangerous.

Common Types of Specific Phobia

  • Natural environment phobia: fear of darkness, water, heat.
  • Animals phobia: fear of reptiles, dogs, fish.
  • Bodily phobia: fear of invasive medical procedure, needles, blood, vomit.
  • Situational phobia: fear of small spaces, dentist, flying.
  • Other phobia: fear of clowns, specific foods, loud noises.
situational phobia
Phobia affect about 6–8% of people in the Western world

Complex Phobia

Complex phobia which I define as INTERNAL PHOBIAS, are much more challenging to identify. The reason is that the situation itself is rarely the cause of the phobia. Let’s give examples: acrophobia, fear of driving, agoraphobia, fear of public places, or even social phobia, also called social anxiety. Let me explain, in these particular cases of phobia, the individual does not have a direct cause of his intense stress in the external factor, which in this case would be the situation in which he finds himself. Now, pay close attention! The person who is afraid of driving does not have a fear of driving or the fear of causing an accident, but he apprehends the panic attacks that driving causes him, the agoraphobe is hardly afraid of the crowd but rather from being stuck in the crowd with his anxiety which can cause him panic attacks and as regards the person who has social phobia it is not the social contact which is the cause of his fear, but his anxiety is caused by his lack of self-confidence and his excessive concern. Do you understand what I mean? In these more complex cases of anxiety, the triggering factor is internal, so how is this even possible?

First of all, you have to understand two things. The first thing is that phobias are usual in a child who is none other than a human being who discovers the world. Everyone remembers his extreme fear of the dark or of monsters. In a normal situation, these fears disappear when the human being becomes more rational and learns to understand that his fears are unfounded. If the circumstances of fear have an extreme reaction, these can be perceived as traumatic by the child as by the adult. In this case, the human body, which is a sophisticated machine, will register them as being a threat. The fight or flight response will get triggered.

Fight or Flight

Where does this flight or fight reaction come from? Being in a dangerous situation, the defense system called flight or combat response will start automatically. Human beings will no longer want to be confronted with such a situation and will establish a system of systematic avoidance that will only reinforce the idea of ​​danger and, therefore, phobia.

Humans that we are are nothing but the fruit of a long evolution and extended learning. So we implemented this system to protect us from danger and survive. Imagine your ancestor who comes out of his cave and suddenly finds himself face to face with a saber-toothed tiger. He will need extra strength and energy if he wants to survive, by sprinting for his life or fighting like a lion. The need for additional power is the reason why when we find ourselves in dangerous situations, the body begins the production of stress hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline, which will allow us to find in us this more energy. Simultaneously the body produces the third stress hormone, which is cortisol. Out body uses this stress-hormone to raise our sugar or glucose levels in the body so that we have available the raw material to provide this energy.

Nowadays, we hardly talk about danger factors but rather stressors because even if our reaction remained unaltered, the external factors have become vaguer. The saber-toothed tiger, for example, has turned into your boss who yells at you that you must finish this report before 6 p.m. This poses another problem for us and it is the problem of uselessness of this energy in a situation of stress since as a civilized citizen that you are, these days, you are not going to put on your boxing gloves or your sneakers to deal with this aggression. No, you will sit there wisely, and the energy will build up and give rise to symptoms like sweating, dry mouth, headache, nausea, dilated pupils, palpitations. These symptoms are none other than the reaction that our caveman needed to survive. Our body pauses partially to pump energy into the parts of the body necessary for the effort of survival.

These symptoms are the symptoms of anxiety that goes hand in hand with our phobia. If at this point we focus on the fact that we find it very unpleasant that we feel this anxiety, then the body will continue to produce adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, which will, in turn, give rise to an attack panic or anxiety attack. If, on the contrary, we remain inert in the face of this situation, we will develop anxiety where these symptoms, due to the constant accumulation of energy, become persistent and, therefore, chronic.


belly breathing
Belly breathing

What are the solutions to mitigate these annoyances promptly? Above all, they are psychological or mental. You must lower your expectations, have a positive self-dialogue, and above all, be very friendly with yourself, do not feel guilty, and do not get angry, especially if you want to break this vicious circle.

After that, logically, the practice of the sport will help you to eliminate this surplus energy while producing hormones that will make you feel good like endorphin, the anti-stress hormone, serotonin, the hormone of happiness, and dopamine, the hormone of well-being. All of these hormones are produced by the body naturally when you are in physical exertion!

To finish a little tip that I like to give is the following, learn to breathe differently. Let’s go back to the human being as a primate when a primate is resting and feeling calm; it is practicing nasal-abdominal breathing. So he breathes slowly through his nose and his stomach. Think about it for a moment, the hairs from the nose filter the air and the breathing circuit is much longer between the nose and the stomach, which makes it possible to distribute oxygen in a much more efficient and homogeneous way in your body. On the contrary, buco-thorax breathing (through the mouth through the chest) has the opposite effect of pumping air quickly in your body through a short circuit. A less purified air will penetrate your body more quickly, which is useful when we have to produce an instant effort but which gives an immediate signal of stress to the body. Unfortunately, the modern stressed man considers this form of breathing to be the norm these days. Naso-abdominal breathing is an effective way to stop a peak of anxiety immediately. So think about it and switch to the Zen side of life!


If, after changing your way of thinking and following these few tips, you do not succeed in getting rid of your phobia do not dramatize, in this case, it is advised to submit to cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy is a mixture of psychotherapy and behavioral therapy, which is generally short-lived and whose aim is to modify the behavior, the way of thinking, or the way of perceiving the emotions of the patient. Typically cognitive behavior therapy lasts about five months. It focuses on problems, attitudes, and thinking and how they influence behavior and emotions. The therapist will work with you to develop a strategy to address and resolve the issues encountered. You will learn a set of principles that you can use for the rest of your life when you need to. It is an effective and scientific therapy to regain your emotional balance and control of your life.

If you want to give this approach a try, you will have to choose the therapist who is best suited to you from a lot of different psychologists out there. You can find many certified psychologists online. It would be better to go to a reputable website with accredited therapists and put filters to limit your search taking into account your specific requirements, such as language, country, gender, etc.

Once you have found the psychologist who seems appropriate to you, contact him or her to ask questions that are essential to you. If you found the first contact satisfactory, you can make an appointment to schedule your first session.

Another increasingly common treatment for phobia is virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), the name is self-explanatory.

If you need more help, check the website for more information or the NAMI helpline to talk to someone.

Now courage, you are not alone;

On average, 1 in 10 adults suffers from a phobia at some point in their life.

Interesting Questions and Answers about Phobia


What is a simple definition of phobia?

A phobia is an overwhelming, irrational fear towards an internal or external factor, which triggers the fight-or flight response. A phobia is more intense and debilitating than a fear.

What are the top fears?

  • Social phobia: fear of social situations
  • Agoraphobia: fear of being alone in an open or crowded space
  • Acrophobia: fear of heights
  • Aerophobia: fear of flying
  • Claustrophobia: fear of enclosed spaces
  • Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes
  • Entomophobia: fear of insects

What’s the least common phobia?

  • Nomophobia: fear of being without mobile phone coverage
  • Ambulophobia: fear of walking
  • Hylophobia: fear of trees
  • Flatuphobia: fear of farting
  • Emetophobia: fear of vomiting
  • Spectrophobia: fear of mirrors
  • Turophobia: fear of cheese

Is a phobia a fear?

Phobia is a mental health condition caused by fear.

Does phobia mean hate?

No. Phobia comes from the Greek word phobos that means fear or panic. When we take a look at the etymology of the word xenophobia we’ll notice that it’s a combination of the Greek terms phobos and xenos which means guest or stranger. So, in this example xenophobia actually means fear of strangers or intolerance, and not hate.


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The Telegraph: 13 of the most unusual phobias

ABC News: Phobias, The ten most common fears people hold

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