Imagine this: you’re in the middle of a relaxing shower when all of a sudden you spot a spider out of the corner of your eye, and your heart stops. Of course, this reaction is understandable — no one wants to be interrupted in the shower, especially not by an eight-legged visitor.
However, if your arachnid-related panic continues to affect you long after you’ve vacated the bathroom screaming, there’s also a possibility that you’re experiencing arachnophobia, one of the most-reported irrational fears in Western society.
What is an irrational fear?
An irrational fear, or phobia, is an extreme, unwarranted fear linked to a specific object or event. The symptoms of a phobia are very similar to those of general anxiety, and can include dizziness, nausea, excess sweating, and trembling. Those afflicted by phobias understand that these reactions to specific, unthreatening stimuli are unreasonable, but are incapable of changing their behavior.
How does that compare to “normal” fear?
Fear is an important bodily response to danger. The difference between “normal” fear and phobia lies in the source — someone with a phobia will exhibit a fearful, exaggerated response to neutral stimuli that pose no threat. A person who is scared (but not phobic) of spiders is disgusted when one shows up in their personal shower, and may jump out of the shower and ask someone else to kill the spider, whereas someone who is arachnophobic will take borderline ridiculous measures to avoid spiders, such as spider-proofing their home with plastic and only leaving the house with intense protective covering, like this woman.
"Normal" fears v. irrational fears
|"Normal" fear||Irrational fear|
|A person who dislikes small spaces will probably not accompany their child into a miniature playhouse.||A person with claustrophobia will pass up a great deal on a perfect apartment because the apartment building has an elevator.|
|A person who is scared of developing cancer will visit their doctor whenever they notice a strange growth on their body.||A person with carcinophobia will constantly research theories as to how cancer develops and vastly modify their diet and home life in order to avoid any possible cause for cancer.|
|A person for whom the sight of blood is unpleasant will not enjoy watching TV shows about murder.||A person with hemophobia will significantly alter their route to avoid walking on tough surfaces for fear of falling and developing a cut.|
Normal childhood fears
As humans grow and mature, the natural fears that we feel develop and change. Here are some normal fears at different stages of maturity:
Babies aged 0-2 normally experience tangible fears. Many are fearful of loud, disturbing noises, strange adults they have never met before, and being separated from their parents.
The fears experienced by children aged 3-6 are usually based in an imaginary world. They’ll cry at night about the dark, monsters under their bed, and noises that they cannot explain logically.
As children grow older, in the 7-16 age range, their fears become more realistic. They start to dwell more deeply on topics like illness, death, and natural disasters.
21 Irrational Fears
Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. This popular phobia finds its roots in a rich history of myth condemning the slithering animal, dating all the way back to the Serpent that ruined the Garden of Eden for all of humanity. Nowadays, it is estimated that a third of all adults fear snakes.
Acrophobia, or the fear of heights, is the most common situational phobia in the world, affecting 20 percent of adults worldwide. More casual acrophobics struggle with avoidable heights like ferris wheels, while aggressive acrophobics detest everyday heights like tall buildings or bridges.
Agoraphobia is a fear of crowded spaces. These spaces can be open like the beach, or enclosed like a concert venue; the driving factor behind this phobia is the presence of a crowd.
The fear of dogs is called cynophobia. Similar to ophidiophobia, this fear has some logical basis; multiple dog breeds have been known to attack humans. However, this is only a real threat with aggressive breeds, so immense fear at the sight of a poodle falls under the category of a phobia.
Mysophobia is the fear of germs. Not all germs are necessarily harmful, but these germophobes can’t stand the idea of any germs, and cleanse themselves regularly with ritualistic fervor.
The fear of holes is called trypophobia — and no, they didn’t name it that because trypophobes are scared of tripping in a hole. The holes they fear are small, and their main anxiety centers on what lurks within the holes, not a fear of falling.
Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. Those afflicted often find themselves physically incapable of uttering words whenever they find themselves in the public eye. This fear makes many jobs seriously difficult, and is an oft-cited problem in the professional world.
Many dislike being alone for extended periods of time, but those with monophobia are terrified of being alone for even a few minutes. They can fall into a deep depression when forced to sleep, eat, or go to the bathroom without company.
Alektorophobia is an intense fear of chickens. You’re more likely to develop this phobia if you live in a rural, chicken-heavy environment, or if you experienced scarring chicken-related trauma at an early age. For these individuals, even the thought of a chicken sends fear down their spine.
Aphenphosmphobia can mean a fear of being touched, or a fear of intimacy in general. Individuals with aphenphosmphobia seem at first to just be incredibly antisocial, but in reality their phobia has created a protective wall against hurt at the hands of romantic partners.
Not to be confused with trypophobia, trypanophobia is a fear of needles and injections of all sorts. Between 3.5 percent and 10 percent of the population is estimated to have this phobia.
Also sometimes called social anxiety disorder, this phobia entails a fear of all people. It goes beyond anxiety felt during actual social events, and can even affect time spent alone. Anthropophobia is hard to treat, because those afflicted do not feel comfortable opening up to therapists.
A fear of water is much more problematic than it might seem at first, because aquaphobes aren’t just scared of huge bodies of water; they also fear running water and water being poured on their heads. this intense water hatred prevents many from practicing safe hygiene.
Cruelly, this horrifically long word describes a phobia of long words. The DSM-V does not recognize this (rather specific) phobia, so it is colloquially considered a “social” phobia.
Unlike the more socially accepted fear of failure, those with achievemephobia fear success. This social phobia prevents them from developing dreams or taking risks for fear that it will change social dynamics.
This sensational fear of balloons is one of the least explicable specific phobias. Globophobes are most terrified by balloon popping, but their panic can be set off by the sight or even the smell of the dreaded floating orbs.
Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. We can observe echoes of 13’s unlucky reputation in society at large — the number is referenced often in pop culture as spooky, and apartment buildings are regularly built without a thirteenth floor — but not many actually fear the number itself.
Even more specific than triskaidekaphobia is paraskevidekatriaphobia, or the fear of Friday the 13th. Seems like the movie "Friday the 13th" really had lasting effects on these individuals.
This term refers to the fear of women. It can often be confused with misogyny, but misogyny entails a deep-seated hatred of women, whereas gynophobia is motivated by fear. Interestingly, both men and women can develop gynophobia.
Sidonglobophobia is the fear of cotton balls. It’s very difficult for those with sidonglobophobia to open packages for fear of cotton, and they become distraught at the very sound. Fun fact: it’s rumored that pop icon Michael Jackson suffered from sidonglobophobia.
Pogonophobia is the fear of beards. This phobia usually develops in people who have had traumatic encounters with bearded individuals in the past, and pretty effectively inhibits their capability to function in public spaces for fear of a bearded man around every corner.
Coping with fears and phobias
The method for coping with a fear or phobia should correspond with its severity. Many phobias can be resolved through self-help techniques, such as meditation and thought exercises. However, if a phobia becomes debilitating, more serious strategies should be employed. One of the most effective therapeutic techniques to combat phobia is exposure therapy, which involves gradually exposing those with phobias to the subject of their fear in larger and larger doses. Virtual reality has proved incredibly useful as an exposure therapy tool, allowing those with phobias to interact with fear-inducing stimuli with the comfort of knowing that it’s all just a realistic simulation.
As weird and wacky as many of these phobias sound, they represent a real problem for many members of our society and should not be the subject of laughter. If you have a phobia and want to seek help, head to the National Institute of Mental Health website or the Social Anxiety Association website to learn more.