Fear of feet, also known as podophobia, is considered a specific phobia. A specific phobia is an intense and irrational fear of something that presents little to no actual danger. The fear is often so strong that you will go to significant lengths and make considerable efforts to avoid the trigger of the fear, even if you realize the fear is outsized and irrational.
It’s estimated that approximately 12.5% of U.S. adults experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives. The phobia may make you feel embarrassed or isolated, but many people—approximately 19 million Americans—have one or more phobias that range from mild to severe. You’re not alone, and there is help.
This article will discuss the fear of feet, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, and offer coping tips.
People with a specific phobia are extremely afraid of an object or situation that is not usually dangerous or harmful.
For fear of feet, the person may avoid wearing open-toed shoes or sandals, or avoid situations in which people are barefoot or wearing shoes that show their feet. They are aware that their fear has no factual or logical basis, but they cannot ignore or overcome it.
Other symptoms can include:
- The object almost always causes intense and immediate fear and anxiety.
- A person purposely and actively avoids the object.
- The phobia disrupts daily life.
You can ask your primary healthcare provider for a referral to a mental health professional.
Diagnosing a specific phobia, like fear of feet, is done by a trained clinician. Even if what you're experiencing doesn’t meet the full criteria for a specific phobia, a trained professional can identify aspects of the fear that you can work on. Clinical diagnostic criteria for specific phobias involve:
- Persistent fear is unreasonable or excessive and can even occur when anticipating the feared object or situation.
- Exposure to the feared situation or object causes an immediate anxiety response, like a panic attack.
- The person knows the fear is excessive.
- The feared situations or objects are avoided or handled with significant distress or anxiety.
- Avoiding the situations or objects significantly interferes with a person’s routine, work, social situations, or lifestyle.
- Persistent fear of the object or situation lasts at least six months.
- The persistent fear cannot be explained by another mental health disorder.
The definitive cause of phobias is not known. It is thought that personality traits, genetics, a history of trauma, and past experiences can all contribute to developing a specific phobia.
For some people, the phobia may result from a past experience in which they learned that something was to be feared and avoided at all costs. This can include having watched someone else avoid and fear the situation or object.
CBT stresses that psychological problems are partly caused by faulty ways of thinking and learned and unhelpful behaviors. These faulty perceptions and the behaviors associated with them can be changed by reevaluating the thought patterns and distortions causing them. Coping skills can also be evaluated and practiced for use in various situations.
Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing someone to their feared object or stimulus until the fear lessens. This is often paired with breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.
Other therapies to help overcome a specific phobia include eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), psychoeducation (informing and educating the person about their condition), relaxation, and applied muscle tension (a technique to prevent a rise in blood pressure).
It’s not always easy to avoid a feared situation or object, especially an object that is unavoidable, like feet. Living with a phobia or fear can be stressful, but there are ways to help manage stress and anxiety.
Stress is often a big part of phobias, and better managing your stress can help promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Measures you can take include:
- Eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep.
- Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Minimize or avoid the use of caffeine or alcohol to help reduce anxiety.
- Stay connected to others for social support.
- See a counselor to talk through anxieties or concerns and learn coping techniques.
Phobias are more than just fears. They are more extreme and can cause significant distress. While it’s not known exactly what causes specific phobia, there is treatment available. Many people with a specific phobia are able to live full lives with treatment for their phobia. It’s not easy, but you don’t have to do it alone.
A Word From Verywell
It may feel embarrassing to disclose you have a fear of feet. Mental health professionals have heard it all and do not judge the people with whom they work. A phobia or fear, no matter what it is, is no cause for embarrassment or shame. It is a mental health disorder that can be treated and managed.
A provider will work with you to break down the phobia and develop coping skills to address the fear and make it manageable so that it does not interfere with your life.