Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/10/2022
Sometimes our fears aren’t logical. Need an example? Maybe you’re terrified of bugs,even though you know they likely can’t hurt you. Or perhaps you have a fear of heights, regardless of the fact that you’ve never faced danger while up high.
Often, these irrational fears will start in childhood and carry over into adulthood. If you’re already an anxious person, you may also be more likely to develop these intense fears.
Wondering what causes them and if you can get rid of any you may have? You’ve come to the right place.
There’s no one thing that causes phobias. As mentioned, phobias can stem from childhood. So, if you’re afraid of snakes, it could have been a predilection you developed as a kid that just stuck with you.
But traumatic life events can also trigger phobias.
Say, for example, you were in a bad car accident. You may have a phobia of driving on freeways after that. Or perhaps you were bit by a dog as a kid. Developing an intense fear of canines after that wouldn’t be unheard of.
You may be more likely to experience these types of irrational fears if you already tend to be an anxious person. That’s because people with anxiety have more worries in general.
If you’re already living in an anxious state, it can be easy to develop fears that aren’t necessarily based in reality.
Mental and physical symptoms associated with phobias are:
Shortness of breath
A rapid heartbeat
A strong urge to leave the situation
As mentioned before, anxiety is a breeding ground for irrational thinking. You can be so in your head with concerns that you start to apply that worry to things even if it doesn’t make sense to do so.
Sometimes those irrational fears are general, but sometimes they are super specific. It’s estimated that 12.5 percent of the population experiences a specific phobia at some point.
The DSM-5, a guide that helps diagnose mental conditions, even outlines some of these specific phobias. Types of phobias include:
Certain animals (spiders, snakes, dogs)
Natural environments (heights, water, storms or a natural disaster)
Needles and injections
Situational experiences (airplanes, elevators, tight spaces)
Along with these, it’s not uncommon for phobias to develop around things like vomiting or getting sick, social situations, loud noises and people in costumes (um, clowns, we are looking at you).
These irrational fears affect people in a variety of ways. They can cause minor to severe impairments. To treat phobias, there are generally two routes you can go.
Speaking with a licensed mental health professional such as a therapist or counselor is one of the ways it is suggested you treat irrational fears and phobias.
While there are many types of therapy, exposure therapy could be really helpful in this instance. It revolves around the idea of facing whatever causes you fear and anxiety in a safe, controlled environment.
In exposure therapy, you may be asked to imagine something that conjures up fear for you. For example, you may be asked to think about the last time you faced one of your phobias.
But this therapy can also involve real-life exposure. For example, if you’re afraid of heights, you may be asked to ride up the elevator of a tall building.
The objective is to weaken the connection between whatever you’re afraid of, and your fear of it.
The goal is that, over time, you’ll be able to better process your fears in the moment so that you don’t feel the extreme anxiety and can go about your daily life in a healthy, meaningful way.
Another type of therapy that can help is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. In CBT, you’ll work with a therapist to identify patterns that cause anxiety, and then work on figuring out ways to change those patterns.
Anxiety medication is the other treatment option that is suggested to mitigate phobias. There are a few different types that could work, and while they may not get rid of your fears, they can help you feel like you can manage them.
One option could be selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These work by increasing the level of serotonin in your brain. For this reason, SSRIs are also used to treat depression.
Common SSRIs include:
For more information, check out our guide to SSRIs.
Dealing with anxiety is a beast. But when it brings on intense fears and phobias? That can be even tougher.
Specific phobias affect over ten percent of the population at some point. Signs you are dealing with a phobia include feelings of terror assocaited with whatever you’re scared of, trembling, shortness of breath and more.
Whether you are navigating specific fears (like a fear of snakes or a fear of germs) or you just have irrational fears in general, the good news is that there is hope. Through things like therapy and medication, you can stop letting irrational fears get in your way.
To figure out how you should navigate your fears, schedule a mental health consultation to speak with a mental health provider.