Phobia Symptoms

Phobia symptoms can be as mild as an expression of minor annoyance or life-altering and physically debilitating. Three kinds of phobias have been categorized including social anxiety disorders (social phobias, also known as “SAD”), specific (also known as simple or isolated) phobias and agoraphobia (which is treated as something of a special case).

Our outline of phobia symptoms is based on broadly available literature as well as the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, which is used to codify diagnoses.

panic-1393619_640Panic Attack

Symptoms of social anxiety disorders and specific phobias can be slightly different, though perhaps the most distinctive symptom of any phobia is a panic attack. A series of panic attacks with no apparent cause is a known non-phobic disorder, called panic disorder.

Panic attack symptoms include:

  • pounding or racing heart
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid speech or inability to speak
  • dry mouth

  • upset stomach or nausea
  • trembling or shaking
  • profuse sweating
  • choking sensation

  • chest pain or tightness
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • elevated blood pressure
  • sense of impending doom

Specific Phobia Symptoms

COS_09For diagnosis of a specific phobia, the patient must exhibit all of the following symptoms:

  • A persistent irrational fear triggered by a specific object or situation.
    (Can also be triggered by anticipation of the trigger.)
  • Exposure results in immediate anxiety (such as panic attack).
  • The patient acknowledges that their response is unreasonable or excessive.
  • Avoidance of the situation or object.
  • Anxieties that significantly interfere with day-to-day life.
  • Phobia symptoms must last at least six months for individuals younger than 18 years of age.
  • Symptoms that are not accounted for by other disorders.

As we list on phobia pages, symptoms of specific phobias can be quite broad:

  • extreme anxiety, dread
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • heart palpitation
  • excessive sweating
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • confusion / inability to articulate clearly
  • lack of focus

  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • shaking
  • feelings of powerlessness
  • obsession with the subject of the phobia
  • fear or feelings of losing control
  • avoidance behavior
  • headaches

997415862_61e8b3dba4_zSymptoms of Social Phobias

According to the Mayo Clinic, social phobias are clearly different from everyday social nervousness or shyness. Social anxiety diagnosis will rest on symptoms of “fear, anxiety and avoidance that interferes with your daily routine, work, school or other activities”.

Symptoms of social anxiety disorders that are triggered by performance or the anticipation of performance are generally limited to speaking or performing in public and generally are not triggered by other social situations.

Social anxiety disorder symptoms break down as either emotional/behavioral or physical:

Emotional / behavioral:

  • fear of being judged
  • fear of embarrassment
  • fear of offending others
  • intense fear of strangers
  • fear of being noticed
  • fear of physical symptoms
  • avoiding people
  • intense need to escape
  • extreme irritability
  • extreme anxiety
  • expecting bad outcomes
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of death

Physical symptoms:

  • heart palpitations
  • chest pains
  • gastrointestinal distress
  • nausea or diarrhea
  • shortness of breath
  • choking sensations
  • excessive sweating
  • confusion or lack of focus
  • chills or heat flush
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • trembling or shaking
  • tingling sensations
  • headaches

Symptoms of Agoraphobia

13986155103_aed901705b_zGenerally, agoraphobia symptoms can match any of the symptoms listed above. Agoraphobia generally involves anxiety about feeling alone or trapped in public, such as being outside the home, being in a crowd or traveling in a vehicle. In part, agoraphobia is set apart from both social and specific phobias simply by "not fitting" a diagnosis as either of those types. Diagnostic symptoms for agoraphobia include:

  • Anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing.
  • Situations are avoided or the patient requires the presence of a companion.
  • The anxiety is not better accounted for by social or specific phobia.

Learn More About…

Causes of phobias    -    Symptoms of phobias    -    Treatments for phobias

Images are the result of a search filtered for reuse.

Panic cartoon: Pixabay
Woman's scared eyes: Public domain
Eye behind a hand: Nasrul Ekram, Flickr
Peeking out: Hunter McGinnis, Flickr