Everyone is afraid of something, and we damn well should be. That's because fear is what keeps us safe in the face of poisonous snakes, huge tornados, and other threatening situations. But sometimes that normal fight-or-flight response can go a bit haywire, and that's when fear turns into a phobia.
With a true phobia, the threat of injury or death is greatly exaggerated or even nonexistent, but the fear still persists, according to an article on Helpguide.org. Think of your own phobias, and you'll see what I mean. For example, it may seem like that spider on the wall is going to leap across the room, attach to your face, and ruin all your hopes and dreams for the future. But really it's just going to sit there, ignore you, and maybe look a little gross. If you have arachnophobia, you may pack your bags and stay at your friend's house for the night. Someone without the phobia would probably just ignore the spider, or put it outside. (See the difference?)
So where do such phobias come from? As psychologist Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, says in an interview with Bustle over email, "Simply put, a phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something ... Usually somewhere in their childhood they associated this 'thing' with fear, or had a bad experience."
Wherever your fear came from, one this is true — it is possible to work on your phobias. It may not be easy, and it may take a quite a while, but you can see some improvements and get on with your life. Below are some techniques to try out, so you can overcome your phobia once and for all.
1. Try To Desensitize Yourself
If you get really overwhelmed by the thought of tackling your phobia, then the desensitization technique may be right for you. All you do is gradually expose yourself to the dreaded thing or situation (i.e., crowded streets, bugs, heights), and then withdraw when your anxiety becomes excessive, according to John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on PsychCentral.com. The next time, push yourself a bit further. And so on and so forth until the fear (hopefully) goes away completely.
2. Give Biofeedback A Try
Biofeedback is a super space age-y way to witness your stress responses. During a session, a doctor will attach electrodes to your skin. On a nearby monitor, you'll see things like your heart rate, breath rate, and muscle activity. As Kristi A. DeName said on PsychCentral.com, "Biofeedback gives the anxious person the opportunity to view his or her physiological responses to stress." It's hoped that such awareness can eventually lead to better relaxation techniques. Pretty cool, right?
3. Go For The Flooding Technique
Think about a claustrophobic person riding an elevator all day long, or a germaphobe smearing their hands on dirty door knobs. This technique is just as it sounds — you repeatedly and fully expose (or flood) yourself to a situation until it feels less scary. "It is expected that the amygdala will learn that nothing awful happens, and stop releasing stress hormones," said Tom Bunn L.C.S.W. said on Psychology Today. Flooding may be difficult to do, but it's worth a try.
4. Get Help From The Partnership Method
If you're about to go into a situation that scares you — such as a crowed mall — think about requesting the company of a friend. If you afraid of walking alone through the masses, have your friend walk a certain distance ahead of you, and then wait for you to catch up. "After walking to meet her or him at the location, the individual will walk further ahead before you meet her or him again," said Grohol. Gradually you'll work up to walking longer distances alone. And ta-da! This type of fear can be pretty much solved.
5. Attend A Support Group
Support groups help you realize you aren't alone, or weird, or crazy, and knowing this can go a long way in getting past a fear. Plus, being around like-minded people who all want to get better increases your chance of recovery. So go find a meeting, or a chat group online, and start working on your issues together.
6. Try Some Medication
It's wonderful if you can feel better on your own. But it's also perfectly OK to help your recovery along with medication, if your doctor sees fit. According to WebMD, there are three types of drugs that work well with phobias. The first are beta blockers, which block the stimulating effects of adrenaline in the body. Then there are antidepressants to help alter your mood. And finally sedatives, like Xanax, which can help lessen the feeling of anxiety. Ask your doctor which kind would be best.
7. Self-Exposure Therapy
This is a good one for people who don't have the time (or the cash) for fancy therapy sessions. According to NHK.uk, self-exposure therapy, a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be done using self-help books, self-help groups, or online self-help programs. Basically, you take it into your own hands, and take on that phobia all on your own.
8. Read Up On The Topic
Let's say you're afraid of flying. Reading all about how planes work, flight statistics, and safety measures will help you feel more in control of the situation. The same thing applies for pretty much any phobia. A little knowledge can go a long way in lessening your fears.
9. Climb The "Fear Ladder"
The fear ladder technique works pretty well if the other methods seem like too much. It may be that you started off with something that was too scary or overwhelming, according to an article on Helpguide.org. Instead, begin with a situation you can handle, and work up from them. For example, let's say you're afraid of dogs. You may look at a photo of dogs, then watch a video of dogs, then look at a dog through a window, then stand 10 feet away from a small dog, then 5 feet away, and so on until you're able to pet dogs without being afraid.
10. Learn Relaxation Techniques
One of the worst parts about phobias is the physical reactions — shallow breathing, pounding heart, etc. — that can actually make the anxiety worse. So relaxation techniques may come in handy to help soothe your panic. By breathing deeply from the abdomen, you can reverse these physical sensations, according to Helpguide.org.
11. Do It Anyway
If you've ever given something up because you were scared, then you know the value of "doing it anyway." Because yes, planes are scary, and heights are scary, and spiders are scary. But that doesn't mean you should never fly, or go hiking, or venture into the woods ever again. Let the anxiety come, and then do your best to push forward.
Yes, phobias suck, especially since they can lead to a pretty limited life. Try to yours under control ASAP, and get back to enjoying your life.
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