A phobia is a constant, extreme or irrational fear of an animal, object, place or situation that would not normally worry the majority of people.
A phobia is an overwhelming need to avoid any contact with the specific cause of the anxiety or fear. Coming into contact, or even the thought of coming into contact with the cause of the phobia, makes you anxious or panic.
If it is unlikely that you will come into contact with the object of your phobia (for example, snakes), it will not tend to affect your everyday life too much. However, phobias such as agoraphobia and social phobia can make it very hard to lead a normal life.
Phobias are divided into two types: simple phobias and complex phobias.
This type is about a single object, situation or activity. Common examples are a fear of insects, heights, snakes, enclosed spaces, dentists or flying. If you have a simple phobia you might react with mild anxiety or even with panic when confronted with the prospect of facing the source of your fear.
Agoraphobia is an example of a complex phobia. It involves several anxieties, including fear of entering shops, crowds and public places, or of travelling in trains, buses or planes. It also includes anxiety of being unable to escape to a place of safety, usually home.
Social phobia is another complex phobia. Social phobia is a fear of social or performance situations, such as a wedding or public speaking. Those with a social phobia have a fear of embarrassing themselves or of being humiliated in public.
If you have a social phobia, the thought of being in public or appearing at social events will make you extremely anxious and frightened. It is because these types of situations make you feel vulnerable.
Avoiding meeting people in social situations, including parties or eating in restaurants, is a typical sign of social phobia. In extreme cases, some people are too afraid to leave their home.
Paruresis, also known as bashful bladder syndrome, is another type of social phobia. This anxiety disorder means that you are unable to use public toilets or urinate when others are nearby. It can make it hard to perform normal activities, such as going to work, attending social events or taking holidays. Paruresis can start at any age and seems to affect men more than women.
It is thought that 1-2% of men and women have a social phobia, and it is usually linked to low self-esteem and fear of criticism.