Phobias - Symptoms 

Symptoms of phobias 

All phobias, particularly complex phobias such as agoraphobia and social phobia, can limit your daily activities and may cause severe anxiety and depression.

People with phobias often purposely avoid coming into contact with the thing that causes them fear and anxiety. The lengths someone with a phobia will go to to avoid contact can vary considerably.

For example, someone with a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) may not want to touch a spider, whereas someone else with the same phobia may not even want to look at a picture of one.

In some cases, a person can develop a phobia where they become fearful of experiencing anxiety itself because it feels so uncomfortable.

You don’t have to be in the situation you’re fearful of to experience the symptoms of panic. The brain has the capacity to mobilise a reaction to fearsome situations even when you aren't actually in the situation.

Physical symptoms

People with phobias often have panic attacks. Panic attacks can be very frightening and distressing. The symptoms often occur suddenly and without warning.

As well as overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can cause physical symptoms, such as:

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • hot flushes or chills
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • a choking sensation
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • a sensation of butterflies in the stomach
  • nausea
  • headaches and dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • dry mouth
  • a need to go to the toilet
  • ringing in your ears
  • confusion or disorientation

Psychological symptoms

In severe cases, you may also experience psychological symptoms, such as:

  • fear of losing control
  • fear of fainting
  • feelings of dread
  • fear of dying

Complex phobias

Complex phobias such as agoraphobia and social phobia can often have a detrimental effect on a person's everyday life and mental wellbeing.

Agoraphobia often involves a combination of several interlinked phobias. For example, someone with a fear of going outside or leaving their home may also have a fear of being left alone (monophobia) or of places where they feel trapped (claustrophobia).

The symptoms experienced by people with agoraphobia can vary in severity. For example, some people can feel very apprehensive and anxious if they have to leave their home to go the shops, whereas others may feel relatively comfortable travelling short distances from their home.

If you have a social phobia, the thought of being seen in public or at social events can make you feel frightened, anxious and vulnerable.

Intentionally avoiding meeting people in social situations is a sign of social phobia. In extreme cases of social phobia, as with agoraphobia, some people are too afraid to leave their home.

Several treatment options for phobias are available, including talking therapies and self-help techniques. However, it can often take some time to overcome a complex phobia.


Page last reviewed: 24/02/2014

Next review due: 24/02/2016

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