All phobias can limit your daily activities and may cause severe anxiety and depression. Complex phobias, such as agoraphobia and social phobia, are more likely to cause these symptoms.
People with phobias often purposely avoid coming into contact with the thing that causes them fear and anxiety. For example, someone with a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) may not want to touch a spider or even 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 is able to create a reaction to fearsome situations even when you aren't actually in the situation.
People with phobias often have panic attacks. These 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:
- 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
- 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
In severe cases, you may also experience psychological symptoms, such as:
- fear of losing control
- fear of fainting
- feelings of dread
- fear of dying
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 to the shops. 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.
Page last reviewed: 26 October 2018
Next review due: 26 October 2021