Fear vs. Phobia

Fear and phobia don’t mean the same thing! Find out the difference and how to overcome your phobia in this article.


Art Credit: Katie Becker


Many people think fear and phobia are synonyms, they think that those two words are interchangeable and mean the same thing. Well, you may be surprised to find out that they are actually different things. This article will explain the difference between fear and phobia. At the end there will be a section on how to overcome your phobia.


Fear is a natural thing to feel and is a survival instinct we are born with. Fear can be helpful and just like any emotion it can be felt a low, medium, or high amount. The amount of fear you feel is dependent on the situation and the person. Fear can be a good thing, for example, if a person can’t swim and is afraid of deep water that’s good because that’s your survival instinct kicking in and notifying you that you could drown if you fall in the water. This is something that can be overcome if that person learns how to swim. Some fears, like being afraid of speaking in public, are unnecessary. A person can overcome an unnecessary fear if you learn more about what you’re afraid of and gradually get used to it.

People tend to avoid the situations or things they fear. But this doesn’t help them overcome fear — in fact, it can be the reverse. Avoiding something scary reinforces a fear and keeps it strong.

— kidshealth.org


A phobia is when you feel a severe amount of fear about a situation or particular thing. When you have a phobia it’s generally not healthy or helpful. Fear alerts you to potential danger but with a phobia you feel immense fear for something that you don’t need to be that afraid of. To the person with the phobia the danger will feel real because they are having an intense reaction that is full of fear. Phobias can get in the way of you living your life. For example, if you have a phobia of birds you might be afraid of going to any place where birds are. This can lead to you missing social gatherings like if someone invited you to go camping with them but you declined because of your bird phobia. If you had a phobia of thunderstorms you might not want to go to work or leave the house if the weather forecast expects a storm. A person with this phobia could also feel anxious and distressed when it looks like there will be a storm. Having a phobia makes you feel a tremendous amount of fear and feeling that every time your phobia gets triggered can make you worn out. Having a phobia doesn’t mean that you’re weak or a “scaredy-cat”, a phobia is just a response the brain comes up with to try to protect the person.


Conquering Your Phobia

Getting rid of your phobia is possible. It will be hard and scary at times but it can be done. People can get over their phobia by gradually facing whatever they’re afraid of. This will most likely be really hard but if you power through it will probably get easier. Sometimes people need extra help to do this process and if you need that you can go to a therapist. You can start by making a list that has the person’s fears in least-to-worst order. For example, with a spider phobia, the list will begin with things that the person is least afraid of, like looking at a picture of a spider. After that you can continue making your way up the list until you get to the things the person is most afraid of, like standing next to someone who’s holding a spider or putting a hand into a spider’s cage to touch a spider. A person will start at their least fear and work their way up the list. You only move onto the next fear when the person feels completely comfortable. This process may take a while and you may be on one fear for a while, but persist and keep trying. Don’t forget to have people you trust support you while you’re doing each step. You can go to a therapist and learn relaxation techniques. Those techniques can help people feel comfortable and bold enough to face each fear on their list. Once people get used to their phobia, their brain adjusts how it responds in response to the phobia and the phobia is overcome.


Fear and phobia have different meanings and now you know the difference. If you’re struggling with a phobia there is a way for you to overcome it, so don’t lose hope.


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Citation List:

“Fears and Phobias (for Teens) – Nemours Kidshealth.” Edited by KidsHealth Behavioral Health Experts, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/phobias.html.