Real-life fears are much scarier than scenes from a horror film, like a serial killer doll or flesh-eating zombies. The most common fears and phobias cause more discomfort than your average spook and are more real and complex.
These fears can be debilitating, preventing people from living wholly or causing them to create a routine focused on avoiding triggers — tolerating the sensations that result from triggering objects or situations isn’t an option, as they’re known to make people feel like they’re in a life-threatening situation.
Some of humanity’s most common phobias are well known, like the fear of heights or of the dark. Others, however, are less expected, like the fear of speaking to strangers due to anxiety about what they might think of you. To free yourself of these fears, you have to understand them — it’s not enough to change the channel or end the conversation.
Debugging humankind’s most common fears
Fear has an important job: keeping us alive. Without it, we might challenge dangerous animals or throw ourselves off cliffs without the fear of pain or death. It’s a protection instinct.
But irrational fears can cause us to withdraw from life’s joys, affecting our quality of life. When fear reaches this level, it’s upgraded to a phobia. With phobias, your mind has established what psychology calls “automatic thoughts” — every time the feared situation occurs, your brain automatically receives a message (in the amygdala), and your body reacts with uncomfortable sensations and attempts to get away from the “danger.”
Take control of your fear with expert therapy for anxiety
Humankind’s 10 most common fears
- Social phobia — Also known as social anxiety, this type of phobia covers a broad range of situations in which people are afraid to interact with others because they fear judgment. People that suffer from social anxiety can have difficulty presenting in front of colleagues, speaking in public, going to parties, or just chatting with others. You might be surprised to learn that social anxiety affects as many as 12% of Americans, but sufferers often don’t seek therapy because it would require social contact, which means many never overcome it.
- Fear of heights — Between 3–6% of people suffer from a fear of heights, which means they have to avoid any place high up and can have vertigo or need to hold on to something when going upwards, even just on a flight of stairs. At a theme park, it’s no small feat to get these folks to jump in the cart for a roller coaster ride.
- Fear of snakes, bugs, or spiders — Many people suffer from animal-based phobias, with the most common being insects, snakes, and spiders. The fact that these animals are so different from mammals is a major reason for this strong aversion, but some are venomous, meaning their bite or sting can cause an intense reaction, or even kill. It doesn’t matter that only a tiny percentage are dangerous — the fear persists.
- Fear of closed spaces — This well-known fear is called claustrophobia, and it makes being inside small spaces, like elevators or rooms without windows, unbearable. The person feels a sensation of compression, as if the room is getting smaller and smaller. Some people also feel this sensation in crowds of people, even outdoors.
- Fear of flying — The fear of flying affects a whopping 40% of the global population, with 2.5% estimated to have a clinical phobia. This fear can majorly disrupt people’s lives, as they often choose to travel by land for days or even weeks instead of spending mere hours in the air.
- Fear of the dark — Especially common among kids, this fear nonetheless follows many people into their adult lives. Despite its name, fear of the dark isn’t about the dark itself, but about what we can’t see lurking in the shadows. This fear has roots in traumatic experiences and is influenced by the fact that many tragic scenarios (and scenes from horror films) play out in places with little to no light. People with this fear stay in a constant state of alert and discomfort when the lights are off.
- Fear of getting a disease — Being preoccupied with cleanliness to avoid the spread of germs and going to great lengths to prevent situations with higher potential for exposure to viruses are some common symptoms of the fear of falling ill. It’s important to take care of your health, of course, but those that suffer from this fear often don’t leave home at all, or restrict themselves to places where they know they won’t come into contact with germs.
- Fear of blood — This fear is more about having to see blood, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. For many people, blood represents serious injuries, the risk of death, and the old idea that “it’s not a big deal unless it’s bleeding.” (Maybe it was just my dad that used to say that.)
- Fear of violent weather — One of humankind’s more specific phobias is the fear of extreme weather — sufferers get restless at the slightest sound of thunder rumbling or the sight of thick clouds. Fear of storms, lightning, and thunder can cause a hyper awareness of the forecast and anxious feelings as soon as there is a noticeable change in the weather.
- Fear of death — It’s no surprise that everyone wants to avoid death; we’re trained from birth to avoid risking death. But this otherwise-healthy fear becomes a problem when it causes people to avoid living a normal life. For example, an intense fear of death can prevent people from ever leaving home, in case something puts them in harm’s way.
How to overcome a fear or phobia
To change the system, aside from understanding it better, it’s necessary to gradually come into contact with your fear — to face it, safely. The exposure will create a new form of reasoning, which consists of creating new, safe memories about your fears. In time, the brain learns those situations don’t always need to alert you to “escape” to survive. Slowly, your automatic thoughts become different, calmer feelings and behaviors. This type of treatment is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
At Youper, we’re making CBT more accessible to more people by combining weekly video sessions with caring providers who really listen and 24/7 support from our therapy chat. If you’re ready to face your fears with the gentle guidance of a trained expert, get started today!