Phobias and Anxiety: Unmasking the Connection

How much do you know about phobias and anxiety disorders?  The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes anxiety disorders as the “world’s most common mental disorders” with roughly 4% of the global population being affected by one. Please see below for some definitions, examples on how these can affect mental health, and a brief overview of some of the treatment options.

Defining Phobias and Anxiety Disorders

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines:

A phobia as a persistent and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, or activity (e.g., heights, dogs, water, blood, driving, flying), which is consequently either strenuously avoided or endured with marked distress.


An anxiety disorder as any of a group of disorders that have their central organizing theme be the emotional state of fear, worry, or excessive apprehension.  This category includes, for example, panic disorder, various phobias (e.g., specific phobia, social phobia), and generalized anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorders have a chronic course,and are among the most common mental health problems in the United states.  

As you can see from the definitions above, phobias are a type of anxiety disorder and just as you can have multiple, or comorbid, disorders, you can have multiple phobias.

How They Affect Mental Health

Anxiety is something that can affect anyone from time to time but anxiety disorders differ in the intensity and pervasiveness of the feeling.  For example, it is natural to get a little anxious when meeting someone for the first time.  Someone without an anxiety disorder may feel a little nervous but will still be able to get through the situation.  For someone with an anxiety disorder, who specifically does have problems with social situations, they could experience anything from physical symptoms to downright avoidance of the scenario in an effort to protect themselves.  These physical symptoms could manifest as racing pulse, nausea, irritability, rumination, and trouble concentrating, but this list is not exhaustive.  People suffering from anxiety disorders are at risk of depression and other disorders, if the condition goes untreated.  

Treating Phobias and Anxiety Disorders

There are two main avenues of treatment: exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  Please see below for a very brief overview of each approach.

Exposure therapy is a treatment that was developed specifically to help people confront their fears.  This type of therapy aims to teach people how to start eliminating avoidance techniques so that they can start minimizing their fear response.  The role of the therapist is to “create a safe environment in which to expose individuals to the things they fear and avoid.” (APA, 2017) 

The four ways in which exposure therapy can be administered are:

  • In vivo exposure – directly facing a feared object or feared activity.  
  • Imaginal exposure – vividly imagining the feared object, situation or activity. 
  • Virtual reality exposure – using virtual reality technology to face the feared object, situation, or activity.
  • Interoceptive exposure – purposefully bringing on physical sensations that are harmless but related to the feared object, situation, or activity.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), as defined by the APA, is “a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.”  CBT utilizes techniques that help individuals learn to cope with and address the object of their fear and worry.  For more information on this therapy type, please see our Tabono Tidbit on CBT and DBT.

Whether you are ready to face your fears, or open up a conversation to discuss options, Tabono is here to listen.  To get matched with one of our licensed therapists you can call us at 513-846-5283 or reach out via our Contact Us page.  We look forward to hearing from you!


  • American Psychological Association. (2017a). What is cognitive behavioral therapy?. American Psychological Association.
  • American Psychological Association. (2017b). What is exposure therapy?. American Psychological Association.
  • American Psychological Association. (n.d.-a). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association.
  • American Psychological Association. (n.d.-b). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association.
  • Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023, June 9). Specific phobias. Mayo Clinic.
  • World Health Organization. (2023, September 27). Anxiety disorders. World Health Organization.