10 of the Most Common Phobias

Terrified of the creepy-crawlies? Scared of slithering serpents? Well, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, phobias are the most common psychiatric illness among women and the second most common among men. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that phobias affect approximately 19.2 million U.S. adults. These phobias typically emerge during childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood. They also impact twice as many women as they do men.

There are a number of explanations for why phobias develop, including evolutionary and behavioral theories. Whatever the cause, phobias are treatable conditions that can be minimized and even eliminated with cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques and medication.

Phobias are surprisingly common, but what exactly do people fear the most? Are there any phobias that tend to be more common than others?

The following phobias are ten of the most common objects or situations that lead to marked fear and symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and breathlessness. In some cases, these symptoms escalate into a full-blown panic attack. These common phobias typically involve the environment, animals, fears of injections and blood, as well as certain specific situations.

Arachnophobia

Image of a spider on a web
Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Moment/Getty Images

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and other arachnids. This phobia is quite common, affecting as many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men. The sight of a spider can trigger a fear response, but in some cases, simply an image of an arachnid or the thought of a spider can lead to feelings of overwhelming fear and panic.

So why are so many people terrified of arachnids? While there are an estimated 35,000 different spider species, only around a dozen pose any type of real threat to humans. One of the most common explanations for this and similar animal phobias is that such creatures once posed a considerable threat to our ancestors who lacked the medical know-how and technological tools to address injuries from animals and insects. As a result, evolution contributed to a predisposition to fear these creatures.

Ophidiophobia

Woman hiding behind her sweater
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. This phobia is quite common and often attributed to evolutionary causes, personal experiences, or cultural influences. Some suggest that since snakes are sometimes poisonous, our ancestors who avoided such dangers were more likely to survive and pass down their genes. In a study of 35 snake-fearful participants, however, researchers found that only 3 of these individuals had ever been bitten by a snake. In fact, the majority of the participants had little or no direct experiences with snakes in any capacity.

Another theory suggests that the fear of snakes and similar animals might arise out an inherent fear of disease and contamination. Studies have shown that these animals tend to provoke a disgust response, which might explain why snake phobias are so common yet people tend not to exhibit similar phobias of dangerous animals such as lions or bears.

Acrophobia

Man walking on a tightrope high up
Daniel Milchev/Stone/Getty Images

Acrophobia, or the fear of heights, impacts an estimated 23 million adults. This fear can lead to anxiety attacks and avoidance of high places. People who suffer from this phobia may go to great lengths to avoid high places such as bridges, towers, or tall buildings.

While in some cases this fear of heights may be the result of a traumatic experience, current thinking suggests that this fear may have evolved as an adaptation to an environment in which a fall from heights posed a significant danger. While it is common for people to have some degree of fear when encountering heights, a phobia involves a severe fear that can result in panic attacks and avoidance behaviors.

Aerophobia

A woman with a phobia of flying
Westend61/Getty Images

Aerophobia, or the fear of flying, affects an estimated 8 million U.S. adults despite the fact that airplane accidents are actually very uncommon. Around 1 out of every 3 people has some level of fear of flying. Some of the common symptoms associated with this phobia include trembling, rapid heartbeat, and feeling disoriented.

The fear of flying sometimes causes people to avoid flying altogether. It is often treated using exposure therapy, in which the client is gradually and progressively introduced to flying. The individual may start by simply imagining themselves on a plane before slowly working up to actually sitting on a plane and finally sitting through a flight.

Cynophobia

An image of a dog
Hero Images/Getty Images

Cynophobia, or the fear of dogs, is often associated with specific personal experiences such as being bitten by a dog during childhood. Such events can be quite traumatic and can lead to fear responses that last well into adulthood.

This particular phobia can be quite common. Some estimates suggest that as many as 36 percent of all individuals who seek treatment for a specific phobia have this severe fear of dogs.

This phobia is not just a normal apprehension of unfamiliar canines; it is an irrational and excessive fear that can have a serious impact on a person's life and functioning. For example, a person with this phobia might feel unable to walk down a certain street because they know that there is a dog living in that neighborhood. This avoidance can impact the individual's ability to function in their daily life and make it difficult to get to work, school, or other events outside of the home.

Astraphobia

An image of a lightning storm
Samuel D. Barricklow/Stone/Getty Images

Astraphobia is a fear of thunder and lightning. People with this phobia experience overwhelming feelings of fear when they encounter such weather-related phenomena.

Symptoms of astraphobia are often similar to those of other phobias and include shaking, rapid heart rate, and increased respiration. During a thunder or lightning storm, people with this disorder may go to great lengths to take shelter or hide from the weather event such as hiding in bed under the covers or even ducking inside a closet or bathroom.

People with this phobia also tend to develop an excessive preoccupation with the weather. They may spend a great deal of time each day tracking the local and national weather in order to know when any type of storm might take place. In some instances, this phobia may even lead to agoraphobia in which people are so afraid of encountering lightning or thunder that they are unable to leave their homes.

Trypanophobia

A young child with an injection phobia
Jamie Grill/Tetra images/Getty Images

Trypanophobia is the fear of injections, a condition that can sometimes cause people to avoid medical treatments and doctors. Like many phobias, this fear often goes untreated because people avoid the triggering object and situation. Estimates suggest that as many as 10 percent of people in the U.S. are affected by this type of phobia.

When people with this phobia do have to have an injection, they may experience feelings of extreme dread and elevated heart rate leading up to the procedure. Some people even pass out during the injection. Because these symptoms can be so distressing, people with this phobia sometimes avoid doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals even when they have some type of physical or dental ailment that needs attention.

Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

An image of a socially anxious woman
Roy Mehta/Taxi/Getty Images

Social phobia involves the fear of social situations and can be quite debilitating. In many cases, these phobias can become so severe that people avoid events, places, and people who are likely to trigger an anxiety attack.

People with this phobia fear being watched or humiliated in front of others. Even ordinary, everyday tasks such as eating a meal can be anxiety-provoking. The American Psychiatric Association reports that social phobias often develop during puberty and can last throughout life unless they are treated.

The most common form of social phobia is a fear of public speaking. In some cases, social phobias can cause people to avoid social situations including school and work, which can have a major impact on the individual's well-being and ability to function.

Agoraphobia

A woman with agoraphobia
BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

Agoraphobia involves a fear of being alone in a situation or place where escape may be difficult. This type of phobia may include the fear of crowded areas, open spaces, or situations that are likely to trigger a panic attack. People will begin avoiding these trigger events, sometimes to the point that they cease leaving their home entirely.

Approximately one-third of people with panic disorder develop agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia usually develops sometime between late-adolescence and mid-30s. The American Psychiatric Association reports that two-thirds of people with agoraphobia are women. The disorder often begins as a spontaneous and unexpected panic attack, which then leads to anxiety over the possibility of another attack happening.

Mysophobia

A woman with a germ phobia washing her hands
Mike Kemp/Blend Images/Getty Images

Mysophobia, or the excessive fear of germs and dirt, can lead people to engage in extreme cleaning, compulsive hand-washing, and even avoidance of things of situations perceived as dirty. In some instances, this phobia may be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

This common phobia can also result in people avoiding physical contact with other people out of fear of contamination, overuse of disinfectants, and excessive preoccupation with media reports about illness outbreaks. People with this phobia may also avoid areas where germs are more likely to be present such as doctor's offices, airplanes, schools, and pharmacies.

A Word From Verywell

Phobias are one of the most common types of psychiatric disorders and can create significant disruption in a person's functioning and well-being. Fortunately, safe and effective treatments are available which may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.

The appropriate treatment depends upon a variety of factors including the symptoms and severity of the phobia, so it is always best to consult with your doctor or therapist in order to develop a treatment plan that works for your specific situation.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.

Davey, GCL, McDonald, AS, Hirisave, U, Prabhu, GG, Iwawaki, S, Jim, CI, Merckelbach, H, de Jong, PJ, Leaung, PWL, & Reimann, BC. A Cross-cultural Study of Animal Fears. Behavior and Research Therapy. 1998; 36: 735-750.

Fredrikson, M, Annas, P, Fischer, H, & Wik, G. Gender and age differences in the prevalence of specific fears and phobias. Behavior Research and Therapy. 1996; 34(1): 33-39.

Kessler, RC, Chiu, WT, Demler, O, Merikangas, KR, & Walters, EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2005; 62(2): 617-627.

Rentz, TO, Powers, MB, Smits, AJ, Cougle, JR, & Telch, MJ. Active-imaginal exposure: examination of a new behavioral treatment for cynophobia (dog phobia). Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2003; 41(11): 1337–1353.

Continue Reading