Everyone's afraid of something-or a lot of somethings. But fear isn't the same thing as a true phobia.

"A phobia consists of a persistent fear or avoidance of a specific stimulus," says Dr Kate Wolitzky-Taylor. "Usually the stimulus is a thing or a situation-like bees or heights." But there's a second component to phobias. "In addition, the fear causes significant distress or somehow impairs the person's life," Wolitzky-Taylor says.

So maybe you get creeped out by snakes or tight spaces-both of which are common, she says. Your fear may rise to the level of a phobia if you can''t even see snakes on TV without losing sleep, or you have to quit your job because getting to your office requires that you ride in a cramped elevator.

Where do these phobias come from? Your DNA may play a role. Wolitzky-Taylor says many people have genes that raise their risk for axiety-related disorders-an umbrealla term that includes phobias. but even if you don't have those phobia genes, you can develop one through learning or "conditioning". For example, if your parents always told you to be fearful of spiders, that could snowball into a phobia-especially if you also had a negtive experience with a spider.

Avoiding the thing that scares you can also increase its power over you. "Avoidance strengthens anxiety and keeps it going, and that's a recipe for phobia," Wolitzky-Taylor says. Quite literally, we can be afraid of just about anything. Keep reading to learn about the weirdest phobias out there.

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