The most common phobias

Heights, closed-in tight spaces, snakes – what scares you the most Quick to YouTube? We’re looking at phobias!

Most people have one: an unreasonable fear of something that other people find harmless. But while the fear of the colour yellow (Xanthophobia) or fear of beards (Pogonophobia) may only affect a few people, some kinds of phobias are very common.

The top 3 phobias

Research shows that spiders top the list, followed by heights and in third place other animals such as snakes. Many people also have phobias about hazardous weather conditions such as thunder and lightening. Phobias may not seem like a serious issue, but for people who have them, the anxiety, worry and avoidance behavior can have a massive impact on how they live and function every day.

How to manage a phobia

Why do people get phobias? Well, in simple terms, it’s a matter of attention: You can’t take your eyes or your mind off of whatever is frightening you, and it becomes more frightening the longer you stare at it. Where someone without a phobia of spiders may notice one, and get a little fright, someone with a phobia will notice the spider, and then get fixated on it: they can’t stop themselves, and the anxiety just gets worse and worse.

Slow down and look away

How do you deal with it? Being taught to over-ride your emotional sensitivity means that you can tackle where to focus your attention. Even tiny changes in how quickly you focus on the dreaded spider is a move in the right direction. The more you can slow down and take control of how you feel, the better!  Slower is better, because it gives you control – now you can over-ride your pattern of automatically responding with anxiety.

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One step at a time

So, the next time you’re confronted with a spider in your kitchen and you are beside yourself with horror, try the following steps:

  1. First, calm down, the insect is more afraid of you than you are of it. It truly is, so relax.
  2. Second, stop staring at it.
  3. Now get your weapon, most likely a broom, and calmly prepare to sweep it out.
  4. Sweeping is useful because you don’t want to stare at the spider. You want to focus on the broom.
  5. Next use your broom to brush the unwanted item out of the house much as you would anything else. Notice that when you focus all your attention on the broom and not on the spider, your anxiety will decrease dramatically.

And before you can say arachnophobia, the spider will be gone and you will be amazed at your victory!

Need more help?

If you feel you need a professional’s help there are various options. Many psychologists now use virtual reality therapy which comes in a game format. You progress through a number of zones, each containing 3 types of game tasks that you need to complete:

  • looking at spiders
  • interacting with spiders
  • a task where the user is approached by a spider.

As you complete the tasks and progress through the zones, the spider graphics become more and more intense – from a cute, cartoonish spider right up to realistic graphic tarantulas.  People who complete a few sessions report that it helps and the benefits last. Similar games are being developed to treat phobias relating to heights animals and social situations in a form of psychotherapy which known as exposure therapy.

Evelyn Benecke for