Fears or phobias

  • Are you afraid of certain things or places?
  • Do these things make you worried and anxious?
  • Does your fear stop you from getting on with day to day life?
  • Do you avoid dogs, cats, birds, spiders, insects, mice, or other animals?
  • Are you unable to cope with travelling by plane, small spaces like lifts, heights, the sight of blood, injections, public transport, or the possibility of vomiting or choking?
  • Are you deeply afraid of something so unusual that you are embarrassed and scared to tell anyone else?


What is a phobia?

Many of us are a bit scared of certain things, even though we know they probably won’t harm us. A phobia is a bit like this, as it is a fear of thing or place that is not normally dangerous.  But a phobia is more than this, involving extreme and intense fear.   A phobia brings a great deal of distress and severely limits a person’s life.  Someone with a phobia will try many ways to avoid what they fear.   Just thinking about the feared thing or place, or seeing a picture of it, causes severe anxiety.

These are some of the ways a phobia can affect you:

  • Terror, anxiety, perhaps disgust
  • Heart beat pounds, speeds up or skips
  • Gulping air, breathing fast or getting short of breath
  • Pounding in the head
  • Fingers, toes or lips get numb or tingle
  • Feeling sick, or as though you can’t swallow
  • Butterflies or churning in the stomach
  • Wobbly legs, or as if you might faint
  • Tightness in the body, as if you’re ready to fight or run
  • Sweating
  • Moving fast to get away from the places or things that scare you
  • Finding different ways to escape

Anyone with a phobia about blood, injections and injury will have slightly different symptoms. Like other phobias, you get an initial increase in heart rate and blood pressure. What’s different is that this is followed by a sudden drop in blood pressure which causes nausea, dizziness, and fainting.   A fear of fainting is common in all phobias, but blood-injection-injury phobia is the only one where fainting can actually happen.

How common is it?

Phobias are very common – it is estimated that around 1 in 4 people in the UK have some form of phobia.

What can I do about it?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended two main treatments; psychological therapy (Guided Self Help and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and medication. If you have a phobia you may benefit from one or a combination of both of these.

Guided self help – An iCope Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner can guide and support you to work through CBT-based self-help information and techniques on overcoming phobias.

Some phobias are treated with a form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy that involves being gradually exposed over time to the thing or place you fear – in a planned and collaborative way of ‘facing your fear’.  Graded exposure helps you to discover that the original fear is not accurate and slowly reduce anxiety.

If you would like to know more about Guided Self Help or Psychological Therapy, you can request an appointment with our service. Alternatively, you may wish to speak to your GP about  a referral to our service.

How can I help myself?

If you would like to read more about how you can help yourself please click here.

Useful self-help strategies for managing phobias include:

Exercise: Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, combats stress and releases tension. It also encourages the brain to release a chemical called serotonin, which improves mood.  Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.   Moderate exercise is when you feel slightly out of breath and tired.  A good example is going for a brisk walk.

Relaxation: Learning how to relax and unwind is important. Relaxation and breathing exercises help, as well as activities such as as yoga or pilates.

Improve your diet: Improve your diet to help ease your symptoms. For instance, too much caffeine makes you more anxious than normal because it speeds up your heart.   Caffeine also disrupts natural sleep. When you are tired, it’s harder to cope with anxious symptoms.

Stop smoking and cut down drinking: Cigarettes and alcohol have been shown to increase feelings of anxiety. Drink alcohol in moderation and, if you smoke, try to give up. The NHS and your GP provide free support to people who want to stop smoking.

Meet other people with similar experiences
Support groups meet face-to-face for members to share difficulties and problems with each other. Many support groups also give support and advice by phone, or in writing. Search online or ask your GP about local support groups for anxiety.

Understanding your phobia: Reading about phobias can help. Books based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you understand more about your psychological problems.  You will also learn ways of overcoming phobias by changing how you think and behave.   If you want to know more about recommended books,  click here.