A specific phobia is an intense fear of something identifiable, like an object, animal, situation, or place. This fear is much different and more intense than normal worrying, and when people have a specific phobia, they usually recognize that their fear is excessive. For example, many people are afraid of animals such as snakes and do their best to avoid them in everyday life. However, a person with a specific phobia of snakes becomes extremely anxious when other people talk about snakes or when looking at pictures of snakes. This feeling of terror can quickly overwhelm the person and make him or her feel paralyzed and helpless. The person might even think that he or she is going to die, despite the fact that other people don’t react to the situation in the same terrified way.


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There are two different kinds of phobias, specific phobia and social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder).

The person might even experience a panic attack when this type of fear occurs and therefore attempt to avoid feared situations or objects, no matter how extreme that avoidance might be. For example, a person with a phobia of elevators will choose to walk up twenty flights of stairs instead of using an elevator. Similarly, some people might drive miles out of their way to avoid going through a tunnel or continually postpone family vacations in order to avoid flying.

In cases where an object or event can’t be avoided, someone with a specific phobia will endure the situation with extreme agitation or anxiety, and use extreme measures. For example, one person with a phobia of bridges couldn’t avoid crossing a river every day to get to work. In order to cope with the situation, he climbed into the trunk of a coworker’s car twice a day, five days a week, to cross the bridge to and from his job. And when it’s not possible to avoid a feared situation, the person often worries about it for days before the event takes place.

Among the more commonly feared objects and situations are animals and insects, water, heights, blood, injections, elevators, driving, flying, bridges, telephones, and illness.

The second type of phobia is social phobia, or social anxiety disorder. Social phobia is an extreme fear of being in social situations. This includes specific situations, like speaking or performing in front of people, and more generalized situations, like talking with people. This debilitating fear can prevent people from forming friendships, get in the way of maintaining romantic relationships, and interfere with a person’s career.

People suffering with social phobia might be extremely nervous for days or weeks in anticipation of a feared occasion. This fear of social interaction is much more severe than just normal nervousness; it’s excessive. In order to prevent this excessive fear, a person might try to avoid all social situations, or if that’s impossible, he or she will endure the situations with great anxiety. Most people with social phobia are afraid that they’ll be publicly humiliated or embarrassed in social situations. Sometimes they’re afraid that others will see they’re nervous or sweating, or that they’ll be judged as stupid or crazy. Sometimes people with social phobia are afraid of fainting or losing control of their bodily functions in the presence of others.

One problem related to social phobia is avoidant personality disorder. Officially, avoidant personality disorder is classified as a separate problem, but it involves similar fears of social interactions.


This website is for informational purposes only and does not provide an official diagnosis. Anyone struggling with a physical or mental health problem should seek the services of a medical or psychological professional as soon as possible. Furthermore, if you’re having thoughts about suicide or hurting someone else, please see our crisis resources list, contact your local emergency services, or go to a local hospital immediately.