Having a phobia sure can be annoying. As a grown ass adult, you look at a plane or an elevator or a dog and know that it isn't going to hurt you. But tell that to your brain, right? It doesn't matter how much logic you apply to a situation, it still somehow feels impossible to face your phobia and move past it.
That's because a true phobia isn't just a simple worry. "A phobia is an extremely intense and irrational fear of some stimulus," says Dr. Michele Barton in an interview with Bustle. "Exposure to the feared stimulus causes intense panic." Cue you avoiding planes, elevators, or puppies at all costs. (Or worse, going near them and having a meltdown. No fun!)
If you're absolutely terrified, these reactions can kind of make sense. And yet never facing your fear often means leading an incredibly limited life. I mean, do you really expect to go on forever without riding a plane? Or avoiding dogs? Or walking up 30 flights of steps to get to work? My point is, once you realize that the fear is worth getting over, it can help set you off in the right direction. Below are some ways you might start facing your fear, and hopefully (finally) move past it.
1. Realize You're Having Negative Thoughts
If you have a phobia, then you likely live in a world of worst case scenarios. Instead of calmly riding an elevator, for instance, you might watch the doors slowly close and think, "This is where I die." While such a negative thought feels like a real possibility, it clearly isn't based in reality. (Believe or not, elevators are not death traps.) That's why learning to challenge unhelpful thoughts is an important step in overcoming your phobia, according to an article on mental health website HelpGuide.org. The site outlines a relatively simple process to help face your fears by questioning why you're having these thoughts.
2. Relax Before Facing Your Phobia
If you usually go into scary situations all hyped up, try switching up your mental state before facing your fear. "Start by calming your body and mind with deep breathing and positive thoughts before exposing yourself to the feared stimulus," Barton suggests. "Relaxing the body and mind will serve two purposes: 1. You may begin to associate a positive and calm state with the phobic object, and 2. You will be calmer than usual when facing the fear, so that should reduce the duration and intensity of any panic that does occur."
3. Start Slowing Inching Towards Your Fear
Some phobic people are gutsier and can face their fear head on. But if that's not your style, then the gradual exposure method might be more your speed. Let's say you're afraid of dogs. To gradually face your fear, you might try watching a puppy from afar in a park, and then heading home when you feel scared. The next day, you might get a bit closer. And so on and so forth until being near the dog feels easier.
4. Imagine Facing Your Fear
Another way to ease into things is by simply using your imagination. Take a fear of flying, for example. According to an article on WebMD.com, you might start by looking at pictures of airplanes in a relaxed environment. After that, you imagine buying a ticket, packing your luggage, driving to the airport — all in your mind, and all while practicing relaxation. This will give your brain a calm run-through for when the real thing happens, and it can be very helpful.
5. Warm Up With Less-Scary Versions Of Your Fear
Sometimes it can help to take the proverbial wind out of your fear's sails by imaging it in a less intimidating way. "For example if I fear bumble bees, I would begin by doing some deep breathing then looking at a cute cartoon of a bumble bee before signing up for a bee sanctuary tour," Barton says. This tactic might just help you see your worst fear in a new (kind of adorable) light.
6. Write It Out In A Journal
Get yourself a journal and start writing down all the thoughts that make you feel anxious and scared. Then, read them over and really look at the logic behind your fears. "Identify the cognitive distortions associated with those thoughts, and replace them with realistic and positive thoughts," suggested John M. Grohol, Psy.D., on PsychCentral.com. It's another way of banishing negativity.
7. Try Out Some Positive Imagery
Like I said above, phobias have a way of highlighting worst case scenarios. So it can help to start filling your head with happier thoughts. "Substitute reassuring and peaceful images for the frightening daydreams and fantasies that make you feel excessively anxious," said Grohol. If you do this often enough, the positive thoughts will start to stick.
8. Get On Board With Deep Breathing
Phobias make you feel scared, for sure. But sometimes they can be downright panic-inducing. When that's the cause, you might find yourself hyperventilating, which is when some deep breathing can be helpful. "By breathing deeply from the abdomen, you can reverse these physical sensations," noted HelpGuide.org. "You can’t be upset when you’re breathing slowly, deeply, and quietly."
9. Pay Attention To Something, Anything, Else
If you're about to face a fear (perhaps by getting on a plane, or venturing off into a crowded room), then you might find it helpful to distract yourself, according to Grohol. Sit in your seat and do a puzzle, or start talking to a friend. Anything that keeps you otherwise occupied can keep that fear (and all it's awful physical sensations) at bay.
10. Accept That You Are Feeling Nervous AF
Ever notice how tamping down anxiety sometimes makes it a thousand times worse? That's because insisting you shouldn't feel anxious only makes you feel bad about yourself, and thus more anxious, according to Grohol. So it really can help to own the feeling and just ride it out.
11. Practice, Practice, Practice
When working on your phobia, the key is consistency and practice. "The more often you practice, the quicker your progress will be," noted HelpGuide.org. Sticking with it, and living through all the scary experiences, will start to show your brain that there's nothing worth worrying about.
With a a little effort (OK, sometimes a lot of effort), you can move past your phobias. All it takes is knowing where to start.
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