Everyone has been afraid of something. This is normal because fear is a defense mechanism for ensuring the body’s survival.
These fears are generally temporary and mild. They do not prevent a person from functioning normally.
In people with a phobia, these fears become excessive, persistent and invasive. The person affected may panic and try to avoid situations or conditions that recall the object of their fear.
Phobias belong to the large group of anxiety disorders.
Main Categories of Phobias
The 2 most common categories of phobias are:
They affect about 10% of the population.
Specific phobia is a fear associated with a particular object or situation, for instance, travelling by airplane. The person feels an excessive and irrational fear to face a situation that does not represent a real danger.
Objects and situations that are most often the cause of specific phobias are: animals, insects, storms, heights, bridges, elevators, injuries (including blood and injections), death and enclosed spaces (claustrophobia).
Social phobia is a fear associated with social activities where the person might feel embarrassed, humiliated or concerned about the judgment of others. Examples of social phobia include the fear of speaking in public or in a meeting, as well as the fear of eating in public.
People who suffer from phobias experience anxiety as soon as they are in the presence of the thing they fear or anticipate having to face it.
This anxiety is often accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations (heart beating abnormally fast)
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle pain
- Stomach ache
When to Consult
Do not wait to be unable to conduct your usual activities in order to consult. If you have symptoms, you can consult certain organisations and associations working with anxiety disorders. They offer information, help and support.
However, see your family doctor or another health professional if you experience one of the following situations:
- You feel extreme anxiety, which can escalate to a panic attack, when you are in the presence of certain objects or in a particular situation. You react in the same way when you anticipate facing those objects or being in those situations
- You try to avoid finding yourself facing these objects or situations
- You use alcohol, drugs or unprescribed medication to cope with these objects or situations, or when your anxiety is too high
A health professional can assess whether you have a phobia or another health problem. They will propose a treatment plan adapted to your needs.
See the Help and Resources section to find resources available to you
If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety or that of people around you, see the Preventing Suicide page. You will find further information on help and resources available.
Phobias are illnesses that can be treated. There are known treatments available. Treatments allow people affected to regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier an affected person consults with a doctor, the better their chances of recovery.
In most cases, phobias are treated effectively by a psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of these 2 treatments.
Anxiety disorder experts generally recommend cognitive behavioural therapy. This type of psychotherapy aims to change the individual’s thoughts and problematic behaviour, and replaces them with thoughts and responses appropriate to reality. It helps to find solutions.
Different medication can be used to treat phobias, including antidepressants and anxiolytics. See the page with information on anxiety problems to learn more about:
The condition of someone affected by phobias can worsen if it is not taken seriously. See the page with information on everything you need to know about anxiety disorder complications.
Protection and Prevention
If you show symptoms of phobia, you can act now. Advice on maintaining good mental health will help you change certain lifestyle habits. These changes will help you eliminate factors that worsen or maintain your condition.
Phobias have no clear identified cause. A combination of several factors results in the onset of symptoms. These factors can be biological, hereditary, individual or environmental. See the anxiety disorder information page to learn more about the risk factors of anxiety disorders.
People at Risk
Phobias affect women more often than men.
Specific phobias develop from childhood or adolescence, depending on the type of phobia.
Social phobias often appear in adolescence, but may also affect children.
Help and Resources
Information and Support Resources
There are resources available to receive help or further information on phobias:
- Revivre – Quebec Anxiety, Depressive and Bipolar Disorder Support Association
- Phobies-Zéro (helpline: 1 866 922-0002) (website in French only)
You may consult the anxiety disorder information page to find other available resources for anxiety disorders.
Resources for Care and Services
To receive care or services, or to find a psychotherapist with whom you are comfortable, contact one of the following resources:
Last update: October 29, 2018