We all have our fears. Some big, some small, some based on past experiences, others on the fear of what may or may not happen. It is this last group, specifically phobias, that is often the most intriguing. These are fears that we know to be irrational. We can develop a phobia of almost anything, and the degree to which it affects us can shift over time. Mastering a phobia is a mental exercise because there's usually little chance of your worst-case-scenario fears ever being realised. Many of us are afraid of heights but how likely is it that we’ll be perched on an unstable ledge of a cliff only moments away from the fall? Some of us fear spiders, but we know the chances of encountering a truly deadly, venomous arachnid are usually minimal. Maybe because of their irrationality and almost inexplicable nature phobias fascinate us, and there are big bucks to be made in treatments, therapies and exploratory journeys through these fears.
In light of this, the British research group YouGov undertook a study to look at the top phobias affecting Britons. The results do reveal the fears that most commonly spring to mind when you think of a phobia, but they also demonstrate the extent to which phobias permeate society universally, not merely British society exclusively. Participants in the study were asked to rank the extent to which they fear something, by the quintessentially British units of measurement; not at all versus “a little” or “very” afraid. From clowns to crowds, we’ve got everything covered here, so to see how you compare with your fellow Britons (if you're from the Kingdom) or how you'd fit in with the Brits, have a look at these 10 common British phobias.
10 Clowns: 8%
The age old niche fear, 8% of Britons have said they are “a little afraid” of clowns, while an additional 4% consider themselves “very afraid.” The technical name for a fear of clowns is coulrophobia and is a small but well known phenomenon. It should be noted that the YouGov poll only surveyed people over the age of 18 so statistics around British children could significantly increase this figure. The image of the clown is nowadays thought to be outdated and unfamiliar to children, and rather than being a source of entertainment is instead unnerving and indistinguishable. And let’s face it, as you get older you can't help but associate it with all those creepy horror films.
9 Blood: 11%
Another classic fear, 11% of Britons are “a little afraid” of blood - the fear is haemophobia to give it its medical term. A further 3% were “very afraid”, which is somewhat surprising considering it is vital for our survival. More tellingly, many sufferers do not realise the extent of their fear until they are confronted with the sight of blood, such as in an accident, or at blood donation clinics. The result of haemophobia more often than not, is a drop in blood pressure from the sufferer, causing them to become weak or pass out. Doctors are not entirely sure why this happens, but suggest that a fear of injury may have a lot to do with it. The sight of blood, even from another person, then provokes this fear.
8 The Dark: 12%
Perhaps a fear that most of adults are reluctant to admit to, achluophobia, or fear of the darkness is something that for many persists for most of their life. 12% admitted to being somewhat afraid of darkness while 3% were defined as being “very afraid.” Again, considering this percentage was gleaned exclusively from the adult population of the British nation, that is quite a surprising number. But there again, can't we all get a little spooked by pitch blackness from time to time?
7 Needles: 16%
Tying in strongly with a fear of blood, 16% of Britons consider themselves “a little” afraid of needles. Many do not realise the fear until they actually see an injection or needle of some sort inserted into their own arm or that of another. What is also interesting however, is the breakdown of those who categorised themselves as suffering from the fear: 19% of those who answered yes to a fear of needles were over 60, but the phobia is much more common in young people. 32% of those who answered yes in the survey were between 18-24 years old, suggesting that this is a fear we can master as we get older. That or an acceptance of the fact that the older you get, the more visits to the doctor - and thus injections - you may need.
6 Mice: 16%
Anyone who has lived in a downtown or built up urban area will know that uninvited houseguests such as mice are an irritating risk of everyday life. Whether it’s waiting on a deserted Tube platform or in the comfort of your own home, many in Britain have come face to face with this fear. A breakdown of the statistics reveals that women are far more prone to this phobia than men, or at least are far more prone to admitting it: 16% of men afraid of mice compared to an incredible 34% of women. With the pest control service Rentokil registering increasez in the number of call-outs in the UK for their services, it’s no wonder mice are such a big fear.
5 Crowds: 17%
With a population of over 63 million, it’s not surprising that so many Britons consider themselves somewhat afraid of crowds. An additional 4% are “very afraid” of crowds, and this fear is often linked to anxieties over large spaces as well as the close proximity of other people. With an estimated 14 million living in the London metropolitan area alone, it’s easy to imagine the crush of the underground or the narrow urban streets causing stress and anxiety to many a commuter. In its more severe form, however, fear of crowds can provoke panic attacks, which can require prescribed medication as well as psychological treatment to develop coping mechanisms for the sufferer.
4 Spiders: 24%
The classic and perhaps best known phobia, arachnophobia to some degree affects almost a quarter of the British population. Which is particularly amusing given that the spiders that are indigenous to the UK are relatively small and largely harmless - though there have been some exceptional cases. Recently the population of the UK’s most venomous spider, the False Widow, has been on the increase, with experts blaming climate change. Although the animal is not normally aggressive towards humans, there have been a number of reports of people receiving nasty bites from these eight-legged enemies. In addition to this, deliveries of fruit and other products from tropical climates can often bring in unwanted spiders who have nestled in the cargo hold. Next time you go to buy your bananas, make sure you don’t come back with more than you bargained for!
3 Enclosed Spaces: 29%
With 29% of Britons “somewhat afraid” and an additional 14% “very afraid” of enclosed spaces, this is a truly prolific phobia. However, as any Londoner will tell you, enclosed spaces are a part of everyday life: from the cramped flat you rent for a ridiculous amount of money, to the daily commute on the underground, to the narrow streets of the City of London, enclosed spaces are everywhere. Many of London’s older Tube stations also do not have escalators installed, meaning that commuters must pack into elevators to make it to the platform, where - you’ve guess it - they then cram into any available carriage space. You can see how London rush hour may bring this fear out in many rational Brits.
2 Heights: 35%
One of the most common of all fears, acrophobia, or a fear of heights can affect many people to various degrees. 35% consider themselves “a little afraid” of heights while an additional 23% are “very afraid,” according to YouGov. When confronted with a tall height or sharp drop, sufferers feel a sense of dizziness or vertigo, as well as increased blood pressure and stress levels. As most of us do not regularly fall from great heights (and live to tell the tale) this fear very much centres around the possibility of injury rather than a direct memory or experience.
1 Public Speaking: 36%
Our number one fear on the list, public speaking seems to provoke some serious panic among the Brits. The famed stiff upper lip is clearly not compatible with speaking to large audiences as 36% of people in the UK consider themselves “a little afraid,” and another 20% define themselves as being “very afraid” of public speaking. The fear can actually be somewhat irrational, as - in spite of the fact that an increasing number of careers require some form of presentations skills that go beyond the Powerpoint screen - public speaking is not something most people are usually compelled to engage with. All the same, the fear of being caught short in front of a crowd appears to have captivated the UK, with more than half of Britons suffering a degree of terror when prompted to make a speech.