Phobias and Fears: These Rank Among the Biggest and Worst

Q: What’s the difference between fears and phobias?

A: Basically, while a fear creeps us out, a phobia does that and more—we feel impaired by it.


Jerry Seinfeld is widely quoted as having said this:

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two! Does that sound right?

This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

I can’t attest to whether public speaking is actually the number one fear, but from personal experience, I can easily believe it. In a 1989 Ms. magazine article Barbara Ehrenreich referred to this as “Public Freaking,” and that description has stayed with me ever since.

Psychologist Harriet Lerner seems similarly impressed with this classic piece. In “How to Overcome Your Dread of Public Speaking, Part I” she states that Ehrenreich offered some hope: she said that eventually “abject terror about public speaking subsides into mere dread.” (You can click here for Lerner’s Part II.)

As far as fear of death is concerned, many have liked this quote from Woody AllenI am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

According to one website, though, death is farther down the list than number two, and public speaking is surpassed by flying. Conclusions about the top 10 fears in the United States were reached by analyzing the frequency of people’s online searches. Here’s what they found:

  1. Flying
  2. Public speaking
  3. Heights
  4. Dark
  5. Intimacy
  6. Death
  7. Failure
  8. Rejection
  9. Spiders
  10. Commitment

And what’s the worlds biggest fear? Is it really this, as reported by The Times of India in May? Losing one’s mobile (cell) phone.

TOP PHOBIAS? lists the top 10 phobias as the following:

  1. Slithering Snakes
  2. Creepy Crawlies
  3. Scary Spaces
  4. Other People (as in Social Phobia)
  5. Harrowing Heights
  6. The Dark
  7. Thunder and Lightning
  8. Frightful Flight
  9. Dogs
  10. The Dentist

In another part of the world, the National Phobics Society (now known as Anxiety UK) once said the top 10 phobias are these:

  1. Heights
  2. Blushing
  3. Flying
  4. Animals
  5. Illness
  6. Insects
  7. Confined Spaces
  8. Vomiting
  9. Driving
  10. Open Spaces


Sometimes medication can be useful, e.g., for a condition such as social phobia. Also of help are such forms of treatment as cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.

One thought on “Phobias and Fears: These Rank Among the Biggest and Worst

  1. Ros:

    Last October I blogged about the difference between fears and phobias, and displayed a bar chart from an article by Ruscio et al. showing that public speaking was the number one social phobia and social fear for adults in the U.S.

    Last week I discussed fifteen surveys on fears, and pointed out that public speaking isn’t the greatest fear, since it only was ranked first in five of them:


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