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Situational phobias often top the specific phobias list because so many people suffer from them. Claustrophobia, or a fear of enclosed spaces, affects two to 10 percent of the world population, depending on the source. That means millions of people every day cringe at the mere sight of an elevator, closet or other small, enclosed area. Others can make it into the elevator without a problem, but develop sweaty hands and a rapid pulse as the car climbs to the top of a skyscraper because they suffer from acrophobia, or a fear of heights.
The doctor’s office can be downright terrifying to those suffering from dishabillophobia, or the fear of undressing in front of someone or scopophobia, the fear of being seen or looked at by others. Agoraphobia can make leaving the house at all an absolute nightmare. Commonly believed to be a fear of social situations or people in general, agoraphobia is actually a fear of being in a place or situation that may cause panic or embarrassment, or is difficult to escape. People with agoraphobia avoid fear having a panic attack in these situations more than they actually fear the situation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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The Terrifying Animal Kingdom
For every animal, bird or insect on the planet, there is someone out there suffering from a phobia related to it. Zoophobia encompasses the entire animal kingdom, but most people suffer from individual phobias related to a specific animal or group of animals. Some may deal with ornithophobia, or a fear of birds, while others have an insect phobia, called entomophobia. Those who panic at the site of dogs may have cynophobia, which also describes a fear of rabies. Little Miss Muffet’s arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, caused her to abandon her curds and whey as she fled to safety. While most parents cringe at the phone call regarding a lice outbreak at school, those with pediculophobia (fear of lice) may go into full-fledged panic attacks. Director Steven Spielberg created a whole generation of selachophobia (fear of sharks) sufferers after the release of "Jaws" in 1975.
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Object of Fear
Like the animal kingdom, every tangible object in the world can cause fear in someone. Some of the more common objects that top the phobia lists include aichmophobia (fear of needles), nucleomituphobia (fear of nuclear weapons) and hoplophobia (fear of guns). Other object fears are far less common. For example, those suffering from bibliophobia would have a difficult time even entering a library, as they are morbidly afraid of books. Clothes shopping can a challenge for those with textophobia (a fear of certain fabrics), while getting dressed at all can induce panic in those with vestiphobia (a fear of clothing).
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While those suffering from anthropophobia or sociophobia are scared of people in general, more common entries on a specific phobias list are geared towards individual people or types of people. For example, if reclining in the dentist’s chair strikes fear into your heart you may suffer from dentophobia (fear of the dentist). Latrophobia, or a fear of doctors in general, is also fairly common. Parents often attempt to instill a healthy dose of xenophobia (fear of strangers, also covers fear of foreigners) in their children from a young age with “Stranger Danger" talks. Thanks to Stephen King, John Wayne Gacy and countless horror movies, no list of specific phobias would be complete without coulrophobia, or fear of clowns. After all, one never knows what kind of evil is lurking behind that painted-on smile.
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Fears that Defy Categorization
Some phobias are unrelated to a tangible person, place or situation, but instead focus on a concept or idea. Certain numbers can incite terror in otherwise rational people. For example, many hotels skip the 13th floor because of triskadekaphobia, (fear of the number 13). Movies like "The Omen" created a whole slew of hexakosioihexekontahexaphobics (fear of the number 666). Spiders pack an extra punch for those suffering from both arachnophobia and octophobia (fear of the number 8). Numbers aren’t the only fear-inducing concepts. While most people delight in hearing good news, those with euphobia feel otherwise. Thanatophobia, or a fear of dying, is among the most common entries on a specific phobias list and peniaphobia (fear of poverty) rears its ugly head more often during times of recession.
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National Institute of Mental Health: Specific Phobias
Medline Plus: Phobias
The Mayo Clinic: Agoraphobia
The A to Z of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties by Ronald M., Ph.D, et al.