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What are the UK’s 10 most common phobias?

8 November, 2017

We all have something that scares us, but have you ever wondered how many others share your phobia?

With Halloween approaching, we've looked at what scares the British public most and discovered you might be more normal than you think!

Our experienced doctors have also given you some useful advice on how best to conquer your fears.

Heights (Acrophobia)

Man on a high mountain, looking down

According to the most recent survey from market researchers YouGov, heights are Britain’s biggest fear. Nearly a quarter of the population is reportedly ‘very afraid’ of being up high, while a further 35% are 'a little afraid'.

Many people incorrectly call this phobia ‘vertigo’. Actually, the medical term for it is acrophobia. Some people don’t really like being off the ground at all, so anything from a wall to a tall building could bring on an anxiety attack.

Public speaking (Glossophobia)

There’s no doubt that talking to a room full of people is daunting and for 20% of Britons, the prospect is simply too terrifying to think about. Interestingly, YouGov’s stats reveal women are over twice as likely to be ‘very afraid’ of public speaking compared to men.

For some people, the chance of failure - be it not getting a job or even looking silly - put so much pressure on public speaking that it feels impossible.

Snakes (Ophidiophobia)

According to Live Science, humans evolved their fear of snakes over many years in order to avoid being bitten by one.

While there are no poisonous snakes in Britain and plenty of us will never have even seen one outside a zoo or reptile house, some people can't shake off this instinctive reaction.

A sizeable 52% of Brits have some sort of snake phobia, making it the country’s third-biggest fear.

Flying (Aerophobia)

Aeroplane in a storm

According to YouGov, around 24% of Brits have some form of anxiety about getting on a plane.

You might think that this is more about a fear of crashing than it is a fear of flying itself. However, aerophobia is more complex than it first appears.

While it’s true that some people do worry about something going wrong with the plane, others suffer from anxiety about an ‘internal loss of control’. In other words, they’re worried about what other passengers will think of them if they cause a scene during a panic attack.

Spiders (Arachnophobia)

One of the least-surprising British phobias, around 18% of us admit to being petrified of our eight-legged friends.

We’ve all got a strategy for dealing with spiders, from catching them in a glass to squashing them with a newspaper. We do this despite the fact that they wouldn’t actually be that interested in us if we left them where they were.

You might not know that arachnophobia isn’t limited to spiders either - it includes all types of arachnids, including scorpions and daddy longlegs.

Crowds/Being outside (Agoraphobia)

A large crowd at a London train station

We often wrongly think of agoraphobia as a condition that prevents someone leaving their house. As with other phobias, the full story is a little more complicated.

Agoraphobics might get anxious in any situation where it's difficult to get away. This can be a large, open space, but it can just as easily be somewhere like a shopping centre or public transport.

Anxiety forum No More Panic claims that as many as one in eight people experience agoraphobia in some form.

Clowns (Coulrophobia)

In 2016, the country was hit by a spooky series of pranks, in which people dressed as clowns and jumped out at unsuspecting passers-by.

This can't have been very pleasant for the 12% of the population who suffer from a genuine phobia of clowns! There's a theory that people don't like clowns because of their presence in fictional horror stories, such as the gruesome Pennywise in Stephen King's It.

Enclosed spaces (Claustrophobia)

According to Anxiety UK, up to 10% of us will experience claustrophobia in our lifetime.

This is a phobia many of you will have heard of. It occurs when we become anxious in an enclosed space despite the fact we’re not in danger. Examples include being in a lift, public toilet, changing room or even a revolving door.

Mice and rats (Musophobia)

Legend has it that you’re never more than 20 feet away from a rat. While this is overstating things a bit, the uncomfortable truth for musophobes is that there are a lot of mice and rats in the UK.

While we don’t see them very often, that hasn’t stopped 9% of the population from becoming ‘very afraid’ of them, with a further 17% classing themselves as ‘a little afraid’.

The dark (Nyctophobia)

Person on a dark street

The entertainment industry has certainly led us to believe that there’s a link between darkness and scariness.

Where it's a film, book, video game or TV show, bad things tend to happen in the dark. If you're exposed to this idea from a young age, it's no wonder that you're a bit on edge after lights out.

You might think that being afraid of the dark is something you grow out of. It seems not. YouGov’s data suggests that people in their late 20s and 30s are most likely to leave a light on, with 5% stating they were ‘very afraid’ of the dark.

How can you manage your phobias?

While it’s easy to dismiss other people’s phobias, in severe cases they can have an extremely negative impact on someone’s life. For example, it’s not hard to see how a fear of public speaking might harm someone’s career prospects.

A phobia can easily bring about an anxiety attack, There are many potential physical and psychological symptoms, from sweating and trouble breathing to simply not being able to control your thoughts.

If you have a phobia that’s stopping you making the most of life, our GPs are here to help you. These are just a few of the treatment options available.

Talking therapy


Our doctors can refer you to a mental health expert who specialises in helping people overcome their fears.

Techniques range from counselling to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), where you’ll be taught how to control your thought processes in order to beat your anxiety.

Exposure therapy


As you might guess from the name, this involves exposing you to the thing you fear. It’s focus on a small part of your brain called the amygdala, which controls your ‘fight or flight’ mechanism.

Once your amygdala has established something is scary, it’ll activate flight mode any time you see one. Avoiding things you’re afraid of means your amygdala never has a chance to reconsider its assessment. Exposure treatment aims to reprogram your amygdala by proving the your phobia doesn’t actually pose a threat.

Self-help books or media


There are plenty of books and videos that can give you the advice you need. Many of them focus on specific fears, so our doctors can help you find advice that’s tailored to your phobias.

Medication


For some people, medication is the best way to manage anxiety. You should never try this without the advice of a doctor. They'll prescribe the most effective medication for your needs and make sure it's working properly.

Find out more about how our GPs can help you conquer your phobia:

Get help with phobias

Topics: Mental Health