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5 Common Phobias We Don't Talk About

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Oftentimes when we hear the word “phobia,” our minds tend to go to one of two places: claustrophobia (fear of confined or crowded spaces) or arachnophobia (fear of spiders). 

However, these two aren’t the only phobias out there — in fact, they just barely scratch the surface. The reality is, there are a lot of common phobias we don’t talk about that can be just as debilitating.

According to licensed clinical social worker Ken Goodman, the author of The Anxiety Solution Series, phobias tend to begin as anxiety and turn into phobias when people actively avoid things that provoke their anxiety. A scary experience usually triggers a person’s phobia.

For example, if you were to have an episode of severe vomiting that led to a panic attack, you might develop an irrational fear of vomiting and avoid going places where you think you might vomit.

“When people begin to avoid, the fear turns into a phobia, and if severe, can be so debilitating it can alter the course of their life,” Goodman told The Mighty.

In order to expand the conversation about phobias, we asked Goodman to talk to us about five phobias we don’t often hear about — but are actually more common than we think. In addition to his insight, we turned to our community to share their experiences with these phobias in their own lives.

Here’s what Goodman and our community had to say:

1. Monophobia

Monophobia is the debilitating fear of being alone. Not to be confused with loneliness, people with monophobia struggle to cope with daily life without someone close by — whether that be a specific person, or just any person at all.

Also referred to as “autophobia,” monophobia exists on a spectrum. For some, monophobia might entail being in the house with a specific person or loved one. For others, monophobia might manifest so intensely that they cannot even use the bathroom without someone sharing that space with them.

People with monophobia may experience severe anxiety over the thought of being left alone or being abandoned. According to Goodman, some folks with monophobia fear that if something bad happened to them, no one would be there to help them through it.

Mighty community member Trinnity M. explained that her fear of being alone goes deeper than that. “I have a fear of being alone. Not necessarily [being] by myself in a room, but being forgotten,” she wrote. “The thought of having no one to go through my life with me personally.”

When left alone, many folks with monophobia may feel like they can’t breathe, or feel dizzy or faint. If you are struggling with the fear of being left alone or forgotten, you are not alone. Check out some helpful resources below.

2. Hodophobia

Hodophobia, or the fear of travel, is another common phobia we don’t talk about enough. This intense fear is generally rooted in not wanting to leave one’s comfort zone, often due to the fear of experiencing a panic attack during travel. 

People living with hodophobia might experience symptoms like stomachaches, headaches, shortness of breath or diarrhea when faced with the prospect of leaving their home or visiting new places.

Some folks with hodophobia have a fear associated with specific modes of travel, i.e. only planes or buses, while others fear all trips. For people who experience hodophobia, there is an irrational need to be close to home just in case a panic attack does occur.

Melissa E., a member of our anxiety community, provided further insight into the damaging effects of this particular phobia. “I absolutely despise traveling whether it be a car or a plane just the thought of going anywhere outside my ‘safe bubble’ sends me into a panic,” she said.

Treatment for hodophobia typically involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Clinicians will work with clients to navigate anxiety responses when faced with the trigger of travel.

3. Emetophobia

The fear of vomit or vomiting is called emetophobia. According to Goodman, people who have emetophobia are “constantly on alert for the possibility of vomit and [become] convinced they will vomit when they feel nauseous, even when they have not vomited for years or decades.”

In terms of symptoms, emetophobia tends to manifest through behaviors intended to keep them “safe” from vomiting. That might look like staying at home, confining yourself to a specific “safe” room, or sleeping with a bucket or a towel near you at night in case you become sick. Things like long car rides or new buildings might make you anxious, and you might even feel compelled to find the nearest restroom just in case you have to use it.  

Megs B., a member of The Mighty’s anxiety community, shared how emetophobia impacts her own life day-to-day.

Vomit. The sound, smell, talking about it, seeing it. I used to run away when my brothers were sick. It’s even worse now that I am a mom. One time, my son got so dehydrated from a stomach bug that it was almost fatal. Now when my kids even mention their stomachs hurting, I go into a panic attack. I completely freeze and shut down. I don’t sleep that night for fear of my kids getting sick. I have an empathetic husband who automatically steps in and helps out. It’s horrifyingly embarrassing how I respond. Racing heart, tense muscles, shaking; it’s PTSD now on top of the original phobia.

If you can relate to Megs’ story, you aren’t alone. The Mighty has a wealth of contributor stories to remind you that you aren’t the only one experiencing this phobia. Check out some of those resources below.

4. Cleithrophobia

The fear of being trapped, or cleithrophobia, might sound similar to claustrophobia but it differs slightly. Instead of fearing being trapped in closed spaces like an elevator or a closet, people with cleithrophobia fear being trapped in open spaces. Think movie theaters, shopping malls, stadiums, casinos, freeway traffic and underground parking. 

Cleithrophobia typically stems from a fear or childhood trauma that felt inescapable, and can be triggered when an individual feels like there is no escape. 

“It has more to do with the ability to get out quickly,” Goodman explained. “People feel the need to get out quickly should they experience an emergency: panic, chest pressure, lightheaded, nausea.” 

Additional symptoms include crying, trying to escape by running away, lashing out physically and screaming.

One member of The Mighty’s mental health community, Irusta A., described her experience with living with cleithrophobia, saying,

It makes me anxious just thinking about it. The fear of so many people and something happening and not being able to escape it… I have to know all my exit options in the event I am in this situation.

Cleithrophobia is more common than we might think and if you find yourself in the throes of this phobia, you aren’t alone. Treatment for this phobia typically involves cognitive behavioral therapy to address and navigate anxiety responses to triggers.

5. Social Phobia

Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, is an intense form of anxiety caused by social interactions. Social phobia can make social situations feel unbearable due to the irrational fear of being judged. 

People who have social phobia tend to avoid social situations whenever possible because of the negative feelings being judged or rejected could evoke — inferiority, inadequacy, humiliation or embarrassment. Social situations that might be triggering for someone with social phobia or social anxiety may include going to work or school, dating, attending functions with unfamiliar people and using a public restroom.

Social anxiety can affect quality of life for many people. An anonymous member of The Mighty’s anxiety community shared how it affects her everyday life.

I lack confidence in my ability to speak correctly. There are times when I want to say something, but I hold back because I’m afraid of sounding silly or not being understood. I tend to be afraid of making phone calls, approaching people, speaking in a group, being put on the spot, checking out at the store, ordering at a restaurant, job interviews and so on. This doesn’t make me childish or “crazy.” I have anxiety, and sometimes it gets the best of me. 

Social phobia often manifest physically in the form of blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea or upset stomach, muscle tension and an increased heart rate. 

If you are struggling with a phobia and it is interfering with your quality of life, there is help available to you. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), one of the most effective treatments for most phobias is exposure therapy. To read personal accounts of people who have lived with phobias, check out the following stories.

Getty Images photo via Malombra76

Originally published: April 4, 2019
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