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Why Anxiety Causes Irrational Thoughts & Fears

Katelyn Brenner FNP

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Published 01/09/2022

Updated 01/10/2022

Sometimes our fears aren’t logical. Need an example? Maybe you’re terrified of bugs,even though you know they likely can’t hurt you. Or perhaps you have a fear of heights, regardless of the fact that you’ve never faced danger while up high. 

A phobia is defined as an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little to no danger. Having a phobia is a form of anxiety

Often, these irrational fears will start in childhood and carry over into adulthood. If you’re already an anxious person, you may also be more likely to develop these intense fears. 

Wondering what causes them and if you can get rid of any you may have? You’ve come to the right place.

There’s no one thing that causes phobias. As mentioned, phobias can stem from childhood. So, if you’re afraid of snakes, it could have been a predilection you developed as a kid that just stuck with you. 

But traumatic life events can also trigger phobias.

Say, for example, you were in a bad car accident. You may have a phobia of driving on freeways after that. Or perhaps you were bit by a dog as a kid. Developing an intense fear of canines after that wouldn’t be unheard of.

You may be more likely to experience these types of irrational fears if you already tend to be an anxious person. That’s because people with anxiety have more worries in general. 

If you’re already living in an anxious state, it can be easy to develop fears that aren’t necessarily based in reality. 

Mental and physical symptoms associated with phobias are:

  • Shortness of breath

  • A rapid heartbeat

  • Panic

  • A strong urge to leave the situation

  • Trembling

As mentioned before, anxiety is a breeding ground for irrational thinking. You can be so in your head with concerns that you start to apply that worry to things even if it doesn’t make sense to do so. 

Sometimes those irrational fears are general, but sometimes they are super specific. It’s estimated that 12.5 percent of the population experiences a specific phobia at some point.

The DSM-5, a guide that helps diagnose mental conditions, even outlines some of these specific phobias. Types of phobias include

  • Certain animals (spiders, snakes, dogs)

  • Natural environments (heights, water, storms or a natural disaster)

  • Needles and injections

  • Situational experiences (airplanes, elevators, tight spaces)

Along with these, it’s not uncommon for phobias to develop around things like vomiting or getting sick, social situations, loud noises and people in costumes (um, clowns, we are looking at you). 

These irrational fears affect people in a variety of ways. They can cause minor to severe impairments. To treat phobias, there are generally two routes you can go. 


Speaking with a licensed mental health professional such as a therapist or counselor is one of the ways it is suggested you treat irrational fears and phobias.

While there are many types of therapy, exposure therapy could be really helpful in this instance. It revolves around the idea of facing whatever causes you fear and anxiety in a safe, controlled environment.

In exposure therapy, you may be asked to imagine something that conjures up fear for you. For example, you may be asked to think about the last time you faced one of your phobias.

But this therapy can also involve real-life exposure. For example, if you’re afraid of heights, you may be asked to ride up the elevator of a tall building.

The objective is to weaken the connection between whatever you’re afraid of, and your fear of it. 

The goal is that, over time, you’ll be able to better process your fears in the moment so that you don’t feel the extreme anxiety and can go about your daily life in a healthy, meaningful way.

Another type of therapy that can help is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. In CBT, you’ll work with a therapist to identify patterns that cause anxiety, and then work on figuring out ways to change those patterns.


Anxiety medication is the other treatment option that is suggested to mitigate phobias. There are a few different types that could work, and while they may not get rid of your fears, they can help you feel like you can manage them.  

Anti-anxiety medications need a prescription. As for what types are best for phobias? You'll Need to speak to a licensed psychiatry provider to make that determination.

One option could be selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These work by increasing the level of serotonin in your brain. For this reason, SSRIs are also used to treat depression.

Common SSRIs include: 

For more information, check out our guide to SSRIs

Other anti-anxiety medications include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), benzodiazepines and beta-blockers

Dealing with anxiety is a beast. But when it brings on intense fears and phobias? That can be even tougher.

Specific phobias affect over ten percent of the population at some point. Signs you are dealing with a phobia include feelings of terror assocaited with whatever you’re scared of, trembling, shortness of breath and more. 

Whether you are navigating specific fears (like a fear of snakes or a fear of germs) or you just have irrational fears in general, the good news is that there is hope. Through things like therapy and medication, you can stop letting irrational fears get in your way.

To figure out how you should navigate your fears, schedule a mental health consultation to speak with a mental health provider. 

7 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Phobias. Medline Plus. Retrieved from
  2. Specific Phobia. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from
  3. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from
  4. What Is Exposure Therapy? (2017, July). Retrieved from
  5. Types of Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  6. Gomez, A.F. & Hofmann, S.G. (2020, May 26). SSRIs and Benzodiazepines for General Anxiety Disorders (GAD). Retrieved from
  7. NIMH » Mental Health Medications. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health.
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.