Understanding Phobias and How to Manage Them

Group watching man and woman talking in group therapy session

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Living with a phobia can be challenging. Even if the feared object or situation does not regularly appear in your daily life, you may find that a lot of your time is spent worrying that it may appear or figuring out how to avoid it. In fact, by definition, a phobia is something that interferes with your life.

Let's talk about the different kinds of phobias, their physical and psychological effects, how to talk to your family and friends about your condition, and what support resources are available.

Telling Friends and Family

Telling friends and family about your phobia may be very emotional for you. You may fear that they will judge you or make fun of you. After all, you may have joked about yourself about someone having a phobia in the past.

You may also worry that your loved ones will "label" you, and treat you as if you are sick. In turn, your friends may either coddle you in a way you wish they wouldn't or on the other hand, avoid you.

Although disclosing your phobia can be difficult, it is a necessary step in the healing process. At first, you may wish to talk to just a close friend or two. You probably know which friends will be most accepting. Keep in mind that you do not need to tell everyone. It is your choice.

A therapist may be able to guide you as you bring up these difficult discussions. In general, it's best to be as honest as possible. If you try to minimize the distress you are experiencing due to a phobia, your friends will not be fully able to appreciate the discomfort you are having.

Psychological and Emotional Effects of Phobias

Phobias often have a far-reaching effect, causing difficulties in many areas of life. You may wonder if what you are feeling is normal. Phobias can impact your life emotionally in several ways.

  • Phobias can cause severe anxiety and the emotional and physical responses that accompany anxiety.​
  • Phobias can be isolating. Some phobias (especially agoraphobia) can lead you to avoid social situations. Not only are you left alone, but you then have time to wonder why you can't be like everyone else.
  • Phobias can be embarrassing. You may be embarrassed by reactions of friends to your phobia ("You're afraid of what?") and by the decisions you may make due to your phobia (when you decline an all-expenses-paid trip to a beautiful resort destination because you are afraid to fly).
  • Phobias can leave you feeling helpless. Just as others wonder why you can't simply not be afraid, you may feel at a loss for being unable to control your phobia. This feeling of helplessness can also leave you feeling much less control over your whole life.

Support Resources

Although you will find primary support from your therapist and closest friends or relatives, you may discover that additional support makes coping easier. There are both online and offline support resources for people with phobias.

Many people find it helpful to read first-person accounts of people’s personal struggles with phobias. Others search for the latest treatment information. Many find that simply speaking with someone who has been there making things a bit easier to handle.

Although many people who experience phobias have similar concerns despite the type of phobia they have, each type of phobia also brings with it specific concerns. It may take you a while to find the right support group or support community, but once you do you'll be glad you took the time. Even if your family and friends totally get what you are coping with, there is something special about being able to talk with others who are facing some of the same challenges.

There are many treatment options for phobias, including several types of therapy and counseling.

Specific Phobias

Some specific phobias are fairly easy to avoid if they do not regularly appear in your daily life. If you have a fear of heights (acrophobia), it may take as little effort as avoiding high places. Even phobias such as the fear of thunderstorms (astrophobia) can be managed to some degree. But some phobias, such as the fear of spiders (arachnophobia) can be difficult to avoid anywhere.


Click Play to Learn More About Common Phobias

This video has been medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD.

If you have a specific phobia, you may be fearful of new situations. You may worry that the object of your fear will be present. It is this fear of your fear that can turn a specific phobia into something which significantly disrupts your life.

Exposure therapies, including systematic desensitization, are the preferred treatment for specific phobias. 

Social Phobia

Social phobia is the former term for what is now known as social anxiety disorder, a condition can be extremely life-limiting. The condition is characterized by intense and persistent anxiety caused by social interactions. You may find yourself basing educational and career moves on the likelihood of being exposed to your feared situation. You might turn down dates or stay home from parties. Social phobia can also lead to cycles of behavior in which your phobic symptoms can cause you to withdraw from social situations, reinforcing your fear of withdrawing from social situations.


Agoraphobia is an extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one's own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult. When attempting to confront agoraphobia, you may have a panic attack brought on by the agoraphobia. This, in turn, may reinforce your belief in your inability to control panic attacks, making the agoraphobia even worse.

Thankfully, once the disorder is recognized, there are methods of treating coping with agoraphobia.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Society of Clinical Psychology. Exposure therapies for specific phobias. Division 12, American Psychological Association.

  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Understand the facts: social anxiety disorder.

  3. Aslam N. Management of panic anxiety with agoraphobia by using cognitive behavior therapy. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(1):79-81. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.96166

Additional Reading

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.