Unlike scenes from horror movies, real-life fears can have a bigger impact on your life. They can keep you from advancing in your career or participating in traditions like giving toasts at your best friend’s weddings.
To begin working through your biggest fears, write down a list of situations that scare you and rate each one on how difficult they are to face. Start with the lowest-scoring one and work your way up.
1. Fear of heights
The fear of heights (also known as acrophobia) is a common and often debilitating phobia. People who have this fear experience physiological symptoms like a racing heart, chest pains, difficulty swallowing, sweating and more.
This phobia may develop due to a traumatic or frightening experience that is associated with heights, such as a fall. It could also be a result of evolution, where the perception that heights are dangerous has become hardwired into the brain.
Regardless of the origin of this fear, it can be overcome with time and effort. It is recommended to seek help from a professional who can assist with analyzing the triggers and severity of your phobia.
2. Fear of enclosed spaces
Fear of enclosed spaces, also known as claustrophobia, is one of the most common phobias. People who have claustrophobia experience anxiety when they are in small or closed places such as elevators, airplanes, tunnels, bathrooms, MRI machines, and subway trains.
People with claustrophobia feel intense and irrational anxiety in these situations, which is out of proportion to the actual danger. They may even panic and believe that they are about to lose control or die.
This phobia usually develops after a traumatic or scary experience from childhood or adulthood, but genetics and the environment can also play a role. The good news is that claustrophobia can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and virtual reality exposure.
3. Fear of flying
For people with this fear, the idea of stepping into an airplane causes a strong feeling of panic. They may avoid flights altogether, and even if they do fly, they experience extreme anxiety.
This phobia can be triggered by witnessing or hearing about a plane crash, and it often begins in childhood. It can also be exacerbated by high-profile terrorist acts and irrational fears based on media coverage.
Mental health professionals can help patients overcome their fear through exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral techniques, says Miller. Some airports even host group therapy programs for fearful fliers.
4. Fear of dogs
People with this fear may experience a range of symptoms, including trembling, heart palpitations and anxiety. Often, these symptoms are worse in the days leading up to an anticipated encounter with a dog. This is known as cynophobia and it can affect up to 9% of the population.
The cause of this fear is often linked to a negative personal experience. This can be triggered by being attacked or even just seeing a friend or family member attacked. In addition, myths and stories about dogs can also influence this type of phobia. This is particularly common in children.
5. Fear of spiders and insects
Seeing a spider scuttle across the floor or hearing a wasp buzz in your ear is enough to give anyone anxiety. This fear of spiders and insects is called entomophobia, and it can lead to avoiding outdoor activities, socializing with friends or spending time with family members who may encounter insects.
If you suffer from a severe case of entomophobia, talk to a healthcare provider about treatment options. These may include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy or hypnotherapy. Some people also take medications to manage their anxiety symptoms. If left untreated, phobias like entomophobia can cause serious health problems.
6. Fear of water
Fear of water, also known as aquaphobia, is a common phobia that causes people to feel anxious and uncomfortable around bodies of water. It can result in a variety of symptoms, including shaking and trembling, excessive sweating and even crying.
A fear of water can often stem from a traumatic experience or it may be learned through observation. For example, children who don’t know how to swim might be frightened by their parents’ anxiety when they are near the water.
Treatment for a fear of water can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), hypnotherapy and anti-anxiety medications. Desensitising yourself to water through repeated exposure and relaxation techniques can also help reduce your fear response.
7. Fear of vomit
While some fears are healthy – a fear of snakes is a good example – other fears are unhealthy and can keep you from doing things you would otherwise enjoy. The fear of vomiting, known as emetophobia or aversion to nausea, is one such fear.
It can develop when people experience negative health experiences that cause them to feel sick or vomit, such as stomach flu, over-indulging in alcohol or food poisoning. People with this condition often exhibit safety-seeking behaviours such as excessively checking the sell-by date of foods or avoiding public places. They may also take anti-nausea medications or suck sweets as a way of trying to avoid vomiting.
8. Fear of public speaking
Glossophobia (the technical term for fear of public speaking) is an extremely common and a debilitating fear. Being able to speak in front of others is an essential skill that can help grow your business, advance your career and promote ideas and solutions to problems that affect everyone.
Sadly, this is also one of the most difficult fears to overcome. Several therapy options can help with this, but cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective. This approach to treatment involves changing the way you think, feel and behave. Changing these habits can alleviate your fear of public speaking.
9. Fear of failure
The fear of failure can be one of the most crippling fears. It can stop people from pursuing their dreams and can cause them to have negative self-talk that perpetuates the fear.
Changing the way you think about failure can help. Boosting your confidence in your abilities can also be helpful in overcoming this fear.
Try learning something new, and allow yourself to fail at it in a safe environment. This can help you practice what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset and open yourself up to the possibility of failing in service of your overall development.