Fears and Phobias and How to Deal with Them Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Fears and Phobias and How to Deal with Them

67 Conversations

A woman screams as spiders climb across her face

To some, it makes sense to have a fear of things like death, darkness, sharp objects, drowning or falling. But for other unfortunate people, life becomes unbearable because of irrational fears of things like beards (pogonophobia), long words (the cruelly-named hippopoto-monstrosesquippedaliophobia) or archibutyrophobia - the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

The idea that someone might be terrified of something that most of us find distinctly inoffensive might seem ridiculous. But every day, someone in the world suffers as a consequence of feelings of dread that they cannot explain.

The response to this topic from the h2g2 Community has been terrific and the following entry provides a fascinating look at the hidden fears that lurk behind the names we daily see on site! Bear in mind that the response to this entry was phenomenal and so the entry you're now reading is just a taster for the huge phobia-based dialogue that went on in the Conversations at the bottom of this page. If, after reading this, you're still hungry for more phobia-related stories, we strongly suggest you check out these threads.

Fear of Bananas

Let's start off with something completely stupid. The following fear could easily cause a slip-up.

I knew someone with a pathological fear of bananas just the sight of one would send them scrambling across tables just to get away from them. It's the weirdest phobia I've ever heard of.

There's always one...

I thought I had that fear too, but it turned out I was just afraid of the band, Bananarama.

Sharp Edges

Fears often originate in an unfortunate accident that happens early on in a young person's life; such as the following:

Anyone who has meet me cannot help but notice the scar on the right hand side of my forehead, under my rapidly receding hairline. This was caused by me tripping over a gutter and slamming my head into the rim at the base of a Mini when I was eight.
As a result I have had a fear of sharp edges ever since and will constantly shut cupboard doors and moving objects out of range. I may occasionally squirm if a sharp object comes towards me and will freak it a knife is waved anywhere in my vicinity even if yards away. Despite this I juggle and have done so with knives and but it's the other things which at times can freak me out which really get me.


I'm scared of pretty much anything with a sting - if I had to be chased through a forest by either a small bee, or a huge grizzly, drooling, hungry bear, I'd choose the bear every time. In the presence of a jellyfish, I'd embrace the nearest Great White shark, and if I was standing next to a scorpion, I'd run and make friends with a particularly irritated tiger.
I cope with my phobia by screaming like a girl and running for miles.



A stairway to heaven? A stairway to unadulterated irrational phobic hell, more like...

I am afraid of stairways, especially those where I can't see the other end of it. I know it's irrational fear, so sometimes I just try to ignore it. But if I have a choice, I always avoid stairways. This fear really has no reasonable basis. No bad experiences, no accidents in childhood.
Me too, well the stairway part anyway! Particularly spiral staircases - I avoid these like the plague, will always look for an alternative route. Very steep staircases scare me too. I have no reason at all for this fear, it is totally irrational - it doesn't really affect my life so not really a phobia but faced with a spiral staircase I will always feel a bit anxious.


No doubt many of you will easily relate to a fear of flying.

About 25 years ago I was on a plane back from Greece - suddenly for no reason I was overtaken by a terrible fear - I wanted to run screaming 'let me out' up and down the plane. I didn't - I bought a little watch with a game on it and concentrated on that. However since then I've been terrified of flying, I got on a plane in 2000 and we flew to Greece for a family holiday - even then my wife had to hold onto my arm as they closed the doors.
It's hard to explain how the fear grips, but I become tense, and feel I cannot breathe properly, then I start to take really deep breaths, but its as though I can't get any benefit from them, now I feel I'm suffocating, and the panic is approaching its height. I get a similar feeling in enclosed spaces.

Fear of Being Hit in the Head

The, er, 'header; says it all...

I admit I have this phobia/fear of being hurt during ball games - soccer in particular. I first got it when I was a youngster and I blacked out after I got hit by a baseball during a match, and since I've always had this terrible fear of being hit in the head during sports. Mind you, I have no problem watching a game on the telly or even in the tribunes, it's just when I'm too close, like in PE, and I can't have a proper sight on my surroundings. The sound of a ball hitting a bat or a foot kicking a ball is enough to make me want to run away (though I don't think I've ever actually done it) It's just a very uncomfortable, clammy feeling in my guts - I'm too dull/insecure to actually act on it, so I usually just try quietly to stand in a more crowded place or raise my hands to protect my head.
I've never talked to a professional about the problems, although my teachers and friends are informed. Many people doesn't believe me when I tell them, or they make a huge issue out of it (which I really think isn't worth it) I still haven't found a proper Latin word for my phobia, so I usually call it Ballistophobia, which was the closest I found - it means 'Fear of bullets'...

Trypanophobia - Fear of Injections

Like the fear of flying, most normal people will easily relate to a fear of being injected. But this is h2g2; the word 'normal' doesn't count for much. Check out the second quotation:

I have Trypanophobia (or Aichmophobia), which as stated above is the fear of having injections. Its not the pain of it, its the idea of having something actually injected into me. I don't like it!

Needles and Hospitals

Before I got asthma, I wasn't scared of needles. But badly managed asthma saw me in casualty a few times in the first 18 months, where trying to draw blood was a pleasure for everyone. Not being able to find veins because they'd all shrunk into my skin because I was starved of oxygen. Very painful. Then I'd have to go back for blood tests for a while after, always stabbing in the same place all the time. I hate needles. If one comes on the TV I cringe and can't watch. If no one else is with me I turn it over. It's not fair to do that sort of thing without warning.
I'm the opposite, I love injections! Injections mean putting your trust into someone hoping it is properly sterilised and without air bubbles.

What can you say to that?

Fear of Driving

Beware the following driver!

I passed my test first time about eight years ago, and cannot get over the fear of driving on my own. In fact, I don't even drive now and if I'm asked by anyone if I do drive, I now say no. The roads frighten the life out of me now and I don't think I'll ever get over my fear. Mind you, I think I'll need lessons on how to handle a car now.

Fear of Dogs

Is the following Researcher's girlfriend barking mad? Actually, we think not.

My girlfriend dislikes barking dogs. When a barking dog comes out of, say, a farmyard, she is stunned and freezes - it's a kind of panic. Usually I try to calm her and pull her away. After a while everything is smooth again, but I think this fear can be dangerous; if she encounters a wild dog alone, I am not sure what would happen.


I must not fall asleep or the clowns will get me...
I must not fall asleep or the clowns will get me...
I must not fall asleep or the clowns will get me...

Evil, evil, evil. According to some...

Don't know what it is about them, I've hated them since birth. A couple of years ago, I heard that clown face paint comes from the fact that in olden times clowns represented demons, and their foolish prattlings were supposed to help us commoners get over our fear of the underworld. Or something. Anyway, is this some racial memory or something? All I know is that I can't watch the film It without hiding behind the sofa.

And another clown-hating Researcher (what is it with you guys?):

Alas, me too! Finally I found someone who share this phobia. I am not totally paranoid but seeing clowns and especially those dolls - you know those porcelain ones you get? They are to me the materialisation of Evil! That grin on their face - as if they are hiding something. That vacant yet piercing stare of their eyes - as if they are going to take you somewhere horrible. I know it sounded silly but... I must not fall asleep or the clowns will get me...
They're definitely up to something. Especially those white-with-black-bobbles-ones. You know you'd best not be alone when they come along. They could break into mime at any moment. And what is all that make-up hiding?

Fear of the Dark

Scotophobia/nyctophobia is a fear of the dark. The following Researcher has a 'paralyzing' fear of the dark and at least one member of the h2g2 Editorial team can wholeheartedly relate to that.

I know some people find it really odd that anyone could be afraid of the dark, but it was something that I pretty much grew up with. It wasn't fright or fear - those two I can control - it was.... well, paralyzing. I'd sometimes get caught in a room with the lights off (someone accidentally turns the lights off on me) - and every time that happened, I'd just get rooted to the spot, petrified. I would just totally lose control of movement. I'm not actually sure why I had this fear to begin with, but it sort of helped when I one day took things into my own hands and pasted luminous stars all over my bedroom. I guess it sort of eased me into darkness without fear over time.

'Inverse Vertigo'

This Researcher seems to have 'inverse vertigo', in that he/she gets more afraid looking up at tall things than looking down from them!

Sometimes when looking down from tall places I get this crazy 'almost urge' to jump - and that is scary.

It's the same with this Researcher:

I have a fear of falling which is not the same as a fear of heights. I can stand quite happily on the top floor of a skyscraper because it is stable. Can I walk up stairs without holding onto a banister? No.
I know it's totally irrational and I really don't know where the fear comes from. All I do know is that at least once a day I am terrified that I may fall.
I have the same fear... I get extremely vivid images in my head of myself falling in horrible ways; I see exactly how I would land and what would happen, and what would get hurt... I even do it when someone else is climbing something. I saw a picture once of someone going over a rope bridge, and it gave me the heebie-jeebies. I refuse to climb anything, and the light bulb in my room has been dead for a long time now because I simply cannot climb up there to change it (I think I've convinced myself I like it better dark and cave-like). It doesn't matter how high (or not high), I just get this vivid image of exactly how the fall would occur, and it frightens me. My boyfriend laughs at me cause I don't let him climb on anything, cause it scares me...


And now for something completely mind-blowing - an account of one person's complete and utter, crippling fear of... wait for it... balloons.

I have a fear of balloons. Not only when they are inflated but also when they are just flopping about flat. It would be easy to explain away the inflated balloon fear - frightened as a child by one popping near me - except that never happened (a fact verified by my parents).
Deflated balloons cannot shock or frighten but they still give me the willies. Just the touch and feel of them, perhaps explainable by a 'rubbery type material' aversion, except that isn't true either. As a nurse my job frequently requires me to wear latex gloves and they don't scare me. But by far the worst kind of balloon is that four-day-old, post-party balloon where it has started to shrivel and go wrinkly at one end. And even writing about them is enough to make me grit my teeth and wish I wasn't. I hate those. I have only met one person before who also had 'the balloon thing' but I don't know if it has a proper name or not.
You would think that balloons are easy enough to avoid - don't buy them - but think about a busy city high street and a shop having a promotion day. Hundreds of wayward children waving balloons about. Trying to avoid them could be classed as an Olympic skill. Just when you think you have worked out the trajectory of the balloon then the child changes direction or a sudden gust of wind blows the in your face and you are left looking like an idiot, while you dance about as if on hot coals ducking and diving to avoid another whack in the face. (This is usually when parents hold on tighter to their kids thinking that its a 'special bus' day out or something).
Christmas is another dreaded time as, of course, they are not only in the streets but in houses, offices and nightclubs. The only answer is to stay at home and be a party pooper. Foil balloons, the kind often filled with helium, are okay. They don't bother me, so I have given up on the logic of the fear and just accept it. A cure? I doubt it. Relaxation techniques can get me in a room with balloons but that is about it.
I prefer to pretend they don't exist - it works very well! For those of you that have read this, I can guarantee that most of you will be thinking of the same question. Well the answer is yes! If you blow a condom up so it looks like a balloon then they will freak me out too!

Fear Of Party Balloons

Not another one!

Party balloons of all shapes and sizes really scare me. Heck even writing this makes my hair stand. I am tormented by the way they squeak and how they always seem to be on the verge of bursting. I have to turn away and move far away (fast!) whenever I encounter a child happily bouncing around with one. Will a visit to a shrink or therapist cure me? Maybe. Will I be so affected as to pay for such a visit? Not yet.


Agoraphobia affects many people. Here, one Researcher narrates an account of how help was found in the shape of an inspirational book:

Not so long ago, after suffering with agoraphobia for 21 years, I found a book called Simple Effective Treatment of Agoraphobia. Written by Dr Claire Weekes, it is described as 'The proven way to conquer the fear of leaving home and joining the outside world'.
It was first published in 1977, long before I had my first attack of agoraphobia, no bloody doctor or counsellor ever thought to recommend it to me. It explains the symptoms of agoraphobia, she realised that much can be gained through knowledge of your own condition. She also says that so-called 'helpful' advice to snap out of it, is unhelpful in the extreme.
She describes agoraphobia is something which often starts after an event, which sensitises you. You become sensitive on a whole new level, emotionally and physically. A little bit of normal fear, suddenly becomes felt in a whole new way. Your sensitised body experiences fear as a range of physical ailments. You become scared about feeling scared, all this fear feeds on itself and can become so overwhelming that you have no idea what to do.
This was describing me, and it seemed so many other people that she worked with. She developed four concepts:
  • Face - do not run away
  • Accept - do not fight
  • Float - do not tense
  • Let time pass - do not be impatient with time
You can change some of the words a little, float can become relax. But, for me these four sentences were revelatory. No, I am not immediately 'cured', but I see that one day I will be. I now have a plan of action, an understanding of what is going on and how to tackle it.

Fluttery things

I've a paralysing fear of anything that flutters but only when inside a building, in the open I can have them in my hand or on my arm, not a problem. I know why, when I was three, a free-flying budgie landed on my head unexpectedly as I entered the living room, I screamed and the budgie dropped dead; but knowing the reason for the fear hasn't allowed me to cope with it fully.
It applies to butterflies, moths and birds, but for some reason not to 'daddy-long-legs' or bats both of which I can catch and put outside, and not to wasps, bees and hornets even though I'm allergic to wasp stings, they all get trapped in a glass and returned to the great outdoors.
I 'cope' by having a great arrangement with Grandad who doesn't like bugs, frogs, toads and slow worms in the house, (the cats like catching amphibians). I deal with them; the fluttery things are his department.

Conquer any Fear

Some people need professional help to guide them through their fears but most can do it themselves if they take it slow and face the challenge. Fear is a psychological pain to an underlying mental problem just as physical pain signals a problem under the skin. Neither should be ignored but given all the attention they deserve. Once cured you're life can rise to a new plateau. You have to acknowledge your fear. What is it? Describe it in detail (talk out loud). How old were you when you first sensed the fear? How long has it haunted you? What was the trigger? Break it down, tear it into a size you can deal with, that you can rationalise about. Step out of your boundaries!

It takes courage to be brave and go somewhere you've never been. It's the only way to grow. The fear is controlling you and keeping you in boundaries. If you keep probing you'll learn things about yourself and find a path to destroy, attack your fear(your enemy). You should face all your fears and reach a point in your life where you can rest in the fact that you fear nothing. The mindset will prevail when the sense of fear arises. You will be in control and never hate yourself for cowering.

Social Eating

Please don't bother offering to take the following people out to dinner - they won't come.

I have a daft sort of problem, about eating out in company, particularly being invited to someone's house. The thought of it may make my throat clamp shut and I feel nauseous - eating the meal can be an endurance test and I may suddenly get hot, light-headed and have to stop eating.
Where it stems from, I don't know. Usually I can conceal it, passing it off as having a small appetite, managing to relax till the sensation passes or the meal ends.
I have that too. I can manage if I'm in a big crowd of people like in a canteen but I can't eat in my flat kitchen with my flatmates, and get really stressed in restaurants.


Right. This one's completely off the scale. Fear of eating in public places is one thing, but fear of handwriting?! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the utterly bonkers world of graphophobia:

Since I was a young child, I have had an irrational and unexplainable fear of handwriting. This includes any form of writing (and sometimes even drawing), but is worse with ink than with pencil and worse with cursive than printing. The ultimate horror for me is to get ink (or pencil) on my hands and fingers from handling something that has handwriting on it. If something has handwriting on it, I will do everything I can to avoid touching the handwriting, including folding, covering the object with something else or just finding a non-written-on area (if all else fails).
I do not like to write things myself, and will type as often as possible. I prefer a pencil when forced to write.

'I'm Afraid of Tulips'

Oh no, please - this has got to be a wind-up? No? But it's a tulip, for Gawd's sake!?

Something about the black stamens in the middle is just wrong... I believe the 'real' name for it would be tulipaphobia, approximately - Tulipa being the genus.
My mom had big yellow ones when I was a kid - taller than I was - and I thought they were a cross between tigers and bees and would sting me and bite me and kidnap me. I wasn't scared they would kill me, though - didn't know about death yet.
I'm not as terrified of them as I was then - I think to be a proper, official phobia it has to be mind-bogglingly awful and interfere with one's daily life. So it doesn't really compare to agoraphobia, for example... not that I don't avoid tulips - nothing could induce me to plant one. And walking past a bed of them is creepy as anything - thinking about it makes my skin crawl - but I think since I've had the fear for so long (and been somewhat embarrassed by it almost as long) I've been deliberately going near them and taking deep breaths for ages now.

A trip to Holland's out of the question, then?


Right. This is getting ridiculous...

I have a phobia, I'm terrified of butterflies, (stop giggling in the background please), summer is a nightmare it has subsided over the years but I still stop dead in the street when one flies in front of me and my heart still pounds when I see one, no one tends to take me seriously even when I run away screaming, my parents didn't help much when they planted a buddliea (butterfly) bush in our front garden.
My Dad is afraid of butterflies to. The story goes that he got a small one (it might have been a moth actually) stuck in his ear when he was very young and he's been afraid of them ever since. It doesn't show much if you don't know about it, but if one comes into the house you can see him tracking it so that he knows where it is in the room.
It's nice to know I'm not alone, my ex-husband once tried to drag me into the butterfly house in Syon Park not believing me and my phobia, I had hysterics literally and he never tried it again.

'What I Remember from Psychology...'

Well, if we've gone to the trouble of outlining all the spooky phobias of our Community, we might as well end on a positive note by looking at how to cure them!

There's usually two ways to go about treating phobias. One is a slow desensitization process, the other is flooding.

Let's say there's someone who's afraid of snakes. If they were being treated with desensitization, the person would first entertain thoughts of snakes. When they became okay with that, they would then look at pictures of snakes. Once they reached a comfort level with that, they would then possibly hold a fake rubber or stuffed snake. They would then get to the point where they could be in the same room as a snake - then see someone else holding it - and then hold it themselves.

The flooding method is simply tossing a snake at them and making them hold it. Eventually the phobia just dissipates into thin air. (This is a bit like the 'Fear Factor' method.)

I had, as many do, a fear of falling. Then I went abseiling... Works wonders! Why did I go abseiling? Seemed like a good idea at the time and no, I wasn't under the influence of alcohol. (Anyone who abseils under the influence of any stimulus other than adrenalin is cuckoo).
My approach is 'if I am afraid of something, do it, touch it, whatever'. My remaining fears are natural ones and with those, there is no easy answer, just acceptance.

And Finally...

There's always one. In fact, in the case of h2g2, there are hundreds. Let's leave the last nugget to one of the many h2g2 philosophers, then:

I have a fear of death, which I intend to confront one day, by doing it.

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