We all know what it is like to be afraid in certain situations. Where there is a real threat, fear is a sensible response and your body releases adrenaline to prepare for ‘fight or flight’.

Phobias, on the other hand, mean that you experience an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger in certain situations. As a result, you might then start to organise your life around avoiding the thing or things that are making you anxious.

As phobias are based on anxieties and fears that are quite personal, other people can find it difficult to empathise. This might result in stigma and discrimination, which can make it much harder for people to speak openly about what they’re going through and seek help.

Fears and phobias

"None of us knew there was such a thing as having a phobia of being ‘sick’. However, as I grew up, I knew there was a problem. I couldn’t watch any medical programmes on TV without having to cover up my eyes, I stayed away from people who said they were feeling poorly and I was constantly worried that I was going to be ill too.” (Jessica) Living with emetophobia

Common phobias might relate to specific things – like animals (insects, snakes, rodents), the environment (water, heights, darkness), situations (the dentist, lifts) and the body (blood, vomit). There are also more ‘complex’ phobias like social phobia (or social anxiety) and agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces or other environments).

Phobia symptoms might include a pounding heart, sweating, shortness of breath, feeling dizzy, a fear of losing control and feelings of being detached from your body.

Find out more about symptoms, treatments and tips for managing it on the NHS and Mind websites.

The stigma around phobias

"I didn't tell anyone about anything because I didn't know enough about mental health to identify my problems and I thought people would judge me as weak. I built up this appearance of being strong and being able to defeat anything that came my way, but the strongest I've ever felt was the point when I realised it's OK to ask for help." (Sarah) Social anxiety at school: the best actor in the world’s worst play

People with mental health problems say that the stigma and discrimination surrounding their mental health problem can be one of the hardest parts of their day to day experience. As a result of the stigma, we might shy away from supporting a friend, family member or colleague. And the consequences can be large. People with mental health problems can lose friendships, feel isolated, withdraw from the world and not get the help they need.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Talking about mental health shows someone that you care about them. It aids recovery, and friendships are often strengthened in the process.

Why not add your name to our pledge wall to join the thousands of people who are taking small steps to be more open about mental health?

How can I help?

The aim of the Time to Change campaign is to encourage us all to be more about our mental health, and to start conversations with those who might need our support.

Why not find out how you could start a conversation about mental health?

You could share a blog story to raise awareness. You could sign up to receive Time to Change emails. And, you might want to add your name to our pledge wall, joining the thousands of people who are taking small steps to be more open about mental health.

Personal blogs about living with phobias

The following blog posts are written by people with personal experience of phobias. By talking openly, our bloggers hope to increase understanding around mental health, break stereotypes and take the taboo out of something that – like physical health – affects us all.

My emetophobia is irrational, but it’s very real for me

Bea, April 10, 2019

I’m not sure how long I’ve had emetophobia, a fear of vomiting or being sick, but I remember the first time I had a panic attack because of sick I was around 10. Since then, every time someone has been sick in the same room as me, I have had a panic attack. I also get triggered by thoughts, sounds, and smells. Sometimes I can’t watch TV or films if they show throwing up, too.

People find it hard to accept my tokophobia

C.T. , June 11, 2018

Tokophobia is a rare phobia of childbirth. I was unaware of it myself until I did some research, but people are not very understanding of it. I do not like children or babies because of it and a lot of people that I have encountered cannot understand this at all. It is beyond frustrating! I don’t want children of my own and this is another thing that people find hard to accept.

A letter to those who experience emetophobia

January 16, 2015

“Everyone, I think I’m scared of being sick.” Jo Blog

“What? nobody likes being sick! Don’t be silly.”

“Oh, ok.”