As we are approaching Halloween – the scariest time of the year – I thought I’d share a post about phobias.
As I’m a wordsmith let’s start with the etymology – phobia comes from an ancient Greek word meaning aversion/fear of something. And to complicate matters the prefix can be of Greek or Latin origin – apiphobia (fear of bees). The prefix is Latin (api) and the suffix Greek. The Greek term would be Melissophobia. There are also a few medical terms with the suffix phobia which aren’t actually fears – Hydrophobia is an old name for rabies (fear of water would be aquaphobia). Photophobia is a complaint linked to the eyes and sensitivity to light (although on a Halloween theme Dracula had a fear of daylight and it caused him harm).
What is a phobia? Wikipedia defines ‘it as a type of anxiety disorder defined by a persistent and excessive fear or an object or situation.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phobia. The fear can be disabling.
The NHS (That’s National Health Service for the non-Brits) states
‘A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.
Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.
If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that’s causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress.’
Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid the situation or object and if it cannot be avoided they experience significant distress.
This is not just a dislike of something – it’s a terror, a primal fear of the thing or situation which results in mental and often physical symptoms. (Although confusingly certain terms – such as zenophobia or homophobia are used to describe the hatred/dislike of a certain group in society. These are not actually phobias.)
Specific phobias may include animals – spiders, snakes, lizards, cats, bats or whatever.
Social phobias (Complex phobia) – include situations where a person is terrified other people are judging them – such as in a job, a relationship, meeting new people or even leaving the house. They can be very debilitating and make life difficult (trust me on this I have experience of it)
Agoraphobia(Complex phobia) – a fear of not being able to escape a situation or environment (or enclosed spaces). Often goes with social phobia. The fear of leaving home – this can lead to panic attacks and other physical manifestations of the fear.
Women are affected by phobias twice as often as men (or possibly admit to it more readily). Those with phobias are at a greater risk of suicide or other mental health difficulties. Those lucky folks who don’t experience the fear often find it hard to comprehend why someone is frightened of the situation – to the extent they don’t go out, experience the ‘fight or flight’ scenarios, and come up with ways to avoid what they fear. Many people with phobias understand they ARE phobias and often ‘irrational’ but are powerless to override the fear.
Physical symptoms can include shortness of breath, sweating, palpations, gastric upset, nausea, trembling
It’s one of the most common mental illnesses – up to 18 percent of Americans experience phobias, 26 percent of Swedish women and similar numbers elsewhere. In the UK over 10 million people have some form of phobia. In the UK a fear of snakes is believed to be one of the most common phobias (we only actually have 2 native snakes – the grass snake and the adder and only the adder is venomous). Spiders feature highly too. Don’t come to my garden – we have lots of them😊
Some phobias are easier to deal with, and avoid the situation/object, than others. For example – I have Coulrophobia – the fear of clowns and Pediophobia – the fear of dolls and puppets. (Human looking puppets like ventriloquist dummies, manikins etc. I can cope with the muppets and animal puppets). These are relatively easy to avoid (unless you foolishly tell your work colleagues and they all come in as evil dolls and clowns for Halloween.) 12 % of Brits have a fear of clowns.
I also have a level of agoraphobia – I hate crowded and noisy places, I’ve had panic attacks and anxiety moments a few times and I go out of my way to avoid the situations. It’s become worse after the Covid pandemic.
I knew someone with a fear of trees (xylophobia – fear of wooded places) and it meant he could be afraid to go someone. We have a lot of woods in Britain – and he didn’t want to risk driving past.
Social phobia and agoraphobia are often hard to cope with – costing people their jobs, friends, social lives, and ability to form relationships.
There are some quite bizarre phobias:
Koumpounophobia – fear of buttons on clothing
Coprophobia – fear of defecating (I can see how this would be very difficult to deal with)
Alexktorophobia – fear of ducks
Ancraophobia – fear of the wind/drafts
Apeirophobia – fear of infinity
Genuphobia – fear of knees/kneeling
Nomophobia – fear of being out of mobile phone range
Pogonophobia – fear of beards
Porphyriophobia – fear of purple (I definitely do not have this)
There are lots – basically there is a fear of pretty much everything. Oh and the fear of everything is panphobia and the fear of fear is phobophobia…