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.

What if: 2 tiny words that cause me fear, anxiety and depression

Ciara, a Time to Change blogger"What if" are two tiny words, two tiny words that on their own don’t hold that much meaning. But, what if I told you that those two words have dominated my life for the best part of ten years? What if you knew how those words control me, cause me to struggle, to fear, to feel anxious and in the end depressed?

Depression: "I’ve never seen you without a smile on your face"

Photo of Aline, a Time to Change bloggerI have experienced problems with my mental health, on and off, since early childhood. However, it is only recently that I have felt truly able to discuss these experiences with those closest to me.

In the past, others’ perceptions of me as happy-go-lucky and my own misconceptions about mental illness made me feel uncomfortable about opening up to people.

The not very secret diary of a clinically depressed boy

Photo of Dale, a Time to Change bloggerI have never constructed a creative piece of writing in my life. I tried to write a book at the age of 10, but sadly, my story ended on page 7. This was despite my best efforts at stretching out the story by writing in huge font sizes and leaving mammoth gaps between each word. Anybody remember the rule at primary school whereby you should leave a finger gap between each word?