Whether it's a fear of snakes, spiders, heights, or small spaces, many people experience phobias on a daily basis. Usually, it's one of these more common fears. But there are plenty of phobias you don't know about, and others that seem so rare and ultra specific, they may not even sound real.
But even if it's over something that sounds out-there, phobias are extremely common, affecting 19.2 million Americans, and any type of phobia has the potential to cause serious distress. You might panic at the sight of the feared object, avoid certain situations, or even get sweaty and shaky at the mere thought. But the good news is, there are plenty of techniques that can help you overcome phobias.
"In general, approaching phobias is about teaching the body and the mind that the feared object or situation doesn’t have to automatically elicit the anxiety response," Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of The Web radio show, tells Bustle. By using techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), flooding, and desensitization or exposure therapy, you can train your brain to react in a different way, so you can feel less fearful. Here are a few phobias you may have never heard of, as well as the best way experts say it's possible to treat them.
"Hodophobia affects a lot of people, many of whom have never heard the term that’s used to describe it. It’s actually pretty normal to be afraid of the unknown, but hodophobia, like other phobias, is a fear that is out of proportion to risk," licensed professional counselor Kathleen Brown, LPC, author of From Fear to There: Becoming a Confident Traveler, tells Bustle. "People who fear travel enough to avoid it entirely are often impacted in important ways as a result of their fear. For example, they may lose jobs or relationships because they refuse to travel."
The good news is that it's possible to work on the fear. "Hodophobia is treatable using a number of evidence-based practices," Brown says. "Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are some of my favored treatment methods for working with this phobia. These therapies can be used alone or combined with good results."
Thermophobia is a fear of excessive heat, or that it will get too hot. It's coupled by the fear that you won't be able to escape, and will somehow become sick as a result, which — as you can probably imagine — can make it difficult to go about your day.
"Sufferers know it is an irrational fear," says Klapow. But its effects can be crippling. "The person with thermaphobia monitors the weather constantly, looking for increasing temperatures and ways to avoid the heat. The checking of the temperature and planning for the heat takes more and more of the person’s time and they begin to reduce where they go, and what they do. Eventually they go from one climate controlled setting to another and nothing more." No trips to the beach, walks outside, etc.
As with many phobias, exposure therapy is a great way to overcome it. "You have to break this cycle," Klapow says. "You can do this by either gradually getting closer and closer to the feared stimulus while controlling your anxiety response. For example, you might think about a snake and then take slow deep breaths to prevent you from being anxious. You might move from there to seeing a picture of a snake and again controlling your anxiety. Then touching a snake. This is a desensitization model, where you are systematically getting used to the feared stimulus without getting anxious, in a controlled manner."
While nobody likes to throw up, there's a big difference between finding it gross and unpleasant and being utterly afraid of it, like people are when they have emetophobia. Or, the fear of throwing up.
"Sufferers do not only fear throwing up themselves, they fear seeing others throw up (whether in person or not), feeling nauseated, seeing vomit, talking about vomit, etc.," professional counselor Yelena Gidenko, PhD, LPC, DCC tells Bustle. "Emetophobia can affect individuals of all ages and symptoms will vary from one person to the next."
The fear can cause sufferers to avoid certain situations where people might throw up, like a party. They might also stay home if they think they might have a bug, which is a habit that can quickly spiral out of control.
But it is possible to overcome it all with CBT. "With CBT, the goal is to help the sufferer reduce the symptoms of emetophobia and ultimately overcome the fear," Gidenko says. "This would consist of correcting faulty beliefs about vomiting, reducing avoidance behaviors, as well as facing and confronting difficult situations through gradual exposure. With the right help and patience, it is absolutely possible to overcome fears and phobias."
Some people experience gerascophobia, which is essentially a fear of aging. It can cause panic attacks at the thought of aging, worry thoughts over death and dying, and it can even lead to depression.
"While many may believe this to be an irrational fear, the fact is that if it prevents you from enjoying your life, you should definitely seek help getting over it," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "I found that constructive therapy and helpful guidance allowed the patient to realize that getting old was an inevitable part of life and that it was not something that someone would just wake up to one day, but is rather a continual process that happens everyday of our lives."
Backe says it's important for sufferers to focus on making the most of each day, instead of living in total fear of an eventual point in the distant future. It won't be an instantaneous fix, but this shift in mindset can help.
A fear of balloons may sound totally made up, but it's very real for people who experience it. According to the phobia information site FearOf.net, "People suffering from this phobia feel morbid fear at the thought, sight, touch, or even smell of balloons. Most individuals, however, are only afraid of the sound made by the popping of balloons."
This fear often has roots in childhood experiences — such as a balloon popping loudly and unexpectedly in your face. And can sometimes carry into adulthood. As NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle, one way to overcome globophobia is with exposure therapy, as well as CBT. "Exposure therapy involves exposing the person to the target of their anxiety," she says. "CBT focuses on using coping strategies for current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation." With some effort, it is possible to overcome this fear.
Chromophobia, or the fear of colors, is when people are afraid of certain shades, "particularly bright or flamboyant colors," author and natural lifestyle expert Jaya Jaya Myra tells Bustle. "They can cause people fear, distress, discomfort and even panic."
According to HealthGuidance.org, "This all comes from various associations that we hold with different colors, some of which have an evolutionary basis. The color green makes us relaxed for instance because we associate it with plants and trees, which provide shelter and nutrition! Blue is also calming because of its association with water and pleasant weather." But colors like red — which we often associate with blood — can be a trigger. If you have this phobia, exposure therapy may be a big help.
If you're all about your houseplants, this one may be difficult to understand. But it's true — some people have a fear of plants, and it's known as botanophobia.
"People who suffer from this usually don't fear all plants, but only certain types," says Myra. "They may see plants as dirty and try to avoid all contact with them. This type of fear is usually tied to some traumatic event involving a plant."
While seeing a therapist or talking with a loved one is always a good idea, it is also possible to start working on phobias on your own. "If you want to explore some on your own, try to understand what caused the fear to begin with. What was the trigger or event caused the phobia? Sometimes by understanding where something came from, you can take steps to rewire the mind so that these common things no longer cause fear or discomfort," Myra says.
It is important to remember that if someone you know has a phobia, even if it's a fear you don't fully understand, that dismissing their worries as irrational does not mean they will fear it any less. Listening to their concerns and assisting them in finding help if they want it is the best way to support someone with a phobia. But if you are experiencing phobias yourself. getting to the bottom of your fear, and finding the right course of treatment can help you overcome your phobia overall.