Phobias: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

Published on

January 17, 2024

Updated on

January 17, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Ben Ahrens, HHP

Phobias are commonly known around the world, and there are hundreds of them! A phobia is an irrational fear and excessive reaction to any object, situation, or event. For example, people can fear being in front of many people or even have an intense fear of snakes or spiders. Phobias do not have to be severely disabling, but they can be. Many of them are just annoying, and people may find them difficult to understand if they do not personally experience these fears.

If you have a phobia, you are not alone. There are hundreds upon hundreds of phobias, and everyone worldwide is fearful of something, believe it or not. There are estimates of nearly 19 million Americans[1] who have reported experiencing phobia symptoms within their lives. Let’s discuss the symptoms of phobias, their cause and risk factors, how they are diagnosed, how they are treated, and how you can cope and live with it or better yet, overcome it.

Symptoms of Phobias

Much like other anxiety disorders, many symptoms overlap. You may experience all of these, some of these, or even just a few when faced with your trigger. Here are the most common symptoms[2] of having a phobia:

  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Inability to speak
  • Rapid speech
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Choking
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sense of impending doom
  • Profuse sweat
  • Elevated blood pressure

These symptoms can be minuscule or potentially be very disruptive to your daily life. It should also be noted that you might even experience panic attacks, but you do not have to have these to be diagnosed with a phobia.

Causes and Risk Factors of Phobias

Surprisingly, you might have developed your phobia as a result of genetics. Many people who end up with specific phobias often have the same ones as their parents. For example, they might have a deathly fear of snakes, but so does their mother or father. Thus, having a close relative who severely fears a specific item or situation and has a diagnosed phobia can be a risk factor for developing a phobia of your own throughout your life.

Additionally, you might also experience a distressing event that could have caused you to have an irrational fear of something. For example, an individual who might have had a turbulent airplane experience when they were younger might have developed a phobia of flying. Another individual might fear swimming because they fell into the lake when they were younger and struggled to swim and make it back to the surface. Phobias can develop from many causes, and it is essential to recognize how a traumatic event could have affected you.

People might have also developed a phobia if they have an ongoing medical concern that seemingly is caused by specific situations. For example, someone who had a traumatic brain injury might be more susceptible to developing a phobia due to that brain damage. Those who suffer from depression or even substance abuse also can be more likely to develop a phobia. This is because of their chemical imbalances within their brain or their general outlook regarding their lives.Schizophrenia is one of the leading medical conditions that is highly associated with the development of phobias. In addition, people might have hallucinations and other symptoms that produce phobias over time due to irrational situations, experiences, and recurring fears of the problem occurring in the future.

No matter how you came to develop a phobia, your situation is valid, and there is a way to treat what you are experiencing and to live a more peaceful and relaxed life.

How Phobias are Diagnosed

Diagnosing a phobia often depends on the specific fear that the individual has developed. There are no specific lab tests used to diagnose these disorders, but people often undergo an exam with their physician. They will be assessed for their physical and mental health history. Doctors will also evaluate their experiences with their proposed phobia. The goal of the physical exam is to ensure that there is not another situation occurring that could be causing this phobia to be present.

A psychologist or psychiatrist would be the most appropriate individual to see after the doctor determines it is a psychological concern. They will interview and assess the individual using the most recent tools and methodology available. By the end of their assessments, they will see if it is a phobia or not.

The diagnosis depends on the physical and mental symptoms when the individual is triggered by fear. It also will depend on if their phobia interferes with their daily life. Based on these factors, they will be able to tell whether or not the phobia is present and how they can best treat the individual case through specified treatment methods.

How Phobias Are Treated

There are numerous ways that people treat their phobias[3]. However, here are some of the most common treatments, including their pros and cons:

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

This is among the most common and involves therapy to expose the individual to the situation through gradual means. They will use systematic desensitization or even exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy when this happens. The goal of these two treatments is to help the individual be slowly exposed so that their fear lessens. Not every patient responds favorably, though, and it depends on the extent of the fear that the individual feels when their phobia symptoms arise.

The benefit of using this is that it avoids anxiety medication and reintroduces the trigger back into the person’s life, slowly but surely. However, there are challenges, and it is not an excellent fit for those who might have a more severe phobia. Other treatments, like medication or relaxation techniques, might be better in these scenarios.


Many people turn to prescription drugs as a form of relief from their symptoms. This can help if your situation is so intense that it disrupts your daily life. The most common that are prescribed are Xanax, Ativan, Lexapro, Prozac, and Paxil. These are all generally considered to be relaxation medications or even anti-anxiety medications. In addition, beta-blockers are also used, which can stop the physical symptoms from arising in the presence of the physical phobia trigger.

The benefit is that these demean acute symptoms you might be experiencing. Still, they can also challenge how people adapt quickly and how this is an external chemical seeking to require your brain activity. When you take these substances, you can end up becoming too dependent, and they can even become too weak for you over time. These are not long-term solutions, and they often have drastic consequences for those who rely on them solely.

Talk therapy

For individuals who need to get their feelings out, cognitive behavior therapy is a viable option. This helps individuals understand their thoughts, rework their behavioral patterns and understand for themselves where they might be struggling more than they should be. This can be helpful, but it also takes some time and therapists are often not as affordable as other options.

Relaxation and meditation

When you come into contact with your phobia, one of the best treatments is to focus on relaxation and meditation. This is among the best because it is non-invasive without any external substances to stop your brain from acting a certain way. The only downside is that deep breathing only truly helps to prevent and alleviate general or peripheral anxiety. If you have severe and acute phobias, this might not solely help you find the relief you are looking for.

Neuroplasticity and brain rewiring

If you have never heard of brain rewiring, it could be the perfect solution for the symptoms of your phobia. Neuroplasticity is the rewiring of your brain’s neuronal connections and the process of training your limbic system not to have the same stress response. It works by rewriting the previous cycle, which forces you to respond to your stimulus trigger with a stress response, which would then send your body into physically and psychologically responding to what you encountered. You would find a way to cope but continuously end up in the same cycle over and over again.

With our heavily researched program, you can rewire your brain in a matter of months so that the same trigger does not make you respond with stress, but you respond by acknowledging its presence, knowing it won’t hurt you, and you can continue to live your life. The benefit is that you can truly overcome and eliminate this phobia over time, all with the help of re-origin’s proven system from the comfort of your home.

How to Live and Cope with Phobias

While it might seem impossible now amid your condition, there are so many ways that you can cope and even eliminate your phobia in the future. You do not have to live with your current mental, physical, and emotional responses, and that is why we created our system. At re-origin, we believe that no one has to live with their condition permanently. We believe that you can rewire your brain, reset your system, repair what has gone off track, and get back to living your best life.

The best way to cope and overcome your phobia is by gradual exposure or incremental training. Through these methods, you can slowly expose yourself, day by day, to your stressor. This is at your comfort level, and it helps you slowly recognize that it is not fearful but a regular part of your daily life. Incremental training, as taught within the re-origin neuroplasticity program, will be the key to your coping and eliminating your fear response to your phobia.

The key is to find a system that works and one that has a proven methodology. Luckily, re-origin has both of those. We have spent many years working to find the best method to help people just like you break the cycle, overcome your fears, and begin to live your life with less fear and no restraints.

You don’t have to live and cope with your fear and disrupt your life. It is time for you to take back control and begin to overcome your symptoms and previous conditioning.

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Conclusion and Final Word from re-origin

We believe that you can overcome any fear, even a phobia. You are not alone in your struggles, and we are here to help you and listen to how this has deeply affected your life. Neuroplasticity is the one proper and non-invasive strategy that can help you learn how your brain reacts to fear and overcome it through cumulative exposure and association. Contact re-origin today to learn more about how our neuroplasticity training program can change your life and help you find more relaxation in your daily routine.


What are the 10 Most Common Phobias?
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Here are the most common phobias that are within the United States:

  • Claustrophobia: fear of confined spaces
  • Aerophobia: fear of flying
  • Arachnophobia: fear of spiders
  • Driving phobia: fear of driving a car
  • Emetophobia: fear of puking
  • Erythrophobia: fear of blushing
  • Hypochondria: fear of being ill
  • Zoophobia: fear of animals
  • Aquaphobia: fear of water
  • Acrophobia: fear of heights

What are the Five General Symptoms of Phobias?
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Generally, there are main symptoms[4] that many people experience as a result of their phobias. The top five symptoms are sweating, abnormal breathing, accelerated heartbeat, trembling, and hot flashes or chills. Of course, not everyone will experience these, but they are among the most common responses to a fearful encounter with a phobia.

What Causes a Phobia?
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Numerous situations and factors can cause phobias. For example, some people are genetically impacted by their parents or their relatives. As a result, kids might develop the same phobia, even though this has not been significantly proven. Another causation is a traumatic event. For example, suppose a kid has a horrible time swimming for the first few times they are within a specific body of water. In that case, they might have an irrational fear that develops regarding water, and they might struggle to cope with situations that mirror this particular event.

How Do You Treat Phobias?
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Numerous programs and options can treat phobias. People can undergo CBT therapy for their condition, or they can even seek medication. One of the best forms of treatment is still neuroplasticity, which is one of the only proven ways to stop the phobia from occurring again in the future for the individual.

How Do Phobias Affect Someone?
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Phobias can affect people in many ways. It is essential to recognize that your experience is unique and still valid, even if it is different from other people’s experiences. You might experience slight disruption and have to avoid specific activities, and you might have to find a way to cope through medication to lessen your symptoms. The severity is varying from person to person. Still, it is essential to recognize that people with phobias almost always have a degree of disruption in their lives because of their diagnosis.


Katie Rapkoch, CHPC