Coping with Phobias
It is not uncommon to feel afraid of common things such as, driving, flying, heights, bugs and more. A phobia is an irrational fear when your fear becomes excessive that is when it becomes a phobia. Approximately 7% of the population is affected by a phobia in a given year.
Woman are usually affected more than men, but fear does not discriminate. Some phobias can be lifelong phobia's, but they are treatable. If a phobia is restricting your daily activities it is important to talk to a medical professional/psychologist to learn different coping mechanisms. There are multiple ways that you can cope with phobias and fear. Many phobias make you feel like you are in danger or in a space where you feel fear. Phobias can be categorized into three different categories: social phobias, agoraphobia, and specific phobias.
Social Phobia: This is a fear of social situations. This type of phobia makes you want to avoid social situations at all cost. Sometimes this type of fear can center around a specific situation. For example, many people have a phobia of speaking in public. Many people feel that this is a situation that can lead to embarrassment, making it hard to perform speaking activities in public.
Agoraphobia: This is a fear of being trapped in a situation or a place without being able to leave. Having difficulty leaving your home or being in places with difficulty escaping.
Specific Phobias: This is a fear of a specific object and this type of fear usually falls into four different categories, situational, animals, medical and environmental. Some of the more common situational phobias are spiders, needles, flying, and heights.
Examples of Specific Phobias:
Animals:Spiders, snakes, rats, birds, cats, dogs
Medical:Going to a doctor, needles (bloodwork/shots), seeing blood
Situational:Driving, flying, bridges, crowds
The natural Environments:Lightening, water, hurricanes, mudslides, tornadoes, storms
Symptoms of Phobias
Phobias can really inhibit your lifestyle and your daily activity, they can cause severe anxiety and depression. Many people who are affected by a phobia avoid contact with the thing that causes them the most anxiety. This means that someone who has a fear of driving would avoid putting themselves in this type of situation. Rather than driving they might walk to their destination or stay home. In some cases, the phobia is so strong that thinking about a situation can cause the brain to panic. It makes you react to a fearful situation even when you are not in the situation. Many phobias are complex, and they have a combination of interlinked phobias making each situation different.
People who suffer from phobias often suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. Panic attacks can come on suddenly and they can cause overwhelming feelings of anxiety and physical symptoms. These include sweating, trembling, hot flashes, chills, tightening in the chest, butterflies in the stomach, dry mouth, numbness, ringing in the ears, confusion, frequent urination or bowel movements, feeling faint, and nausea.
These symptoms happen when having a panic attack or thinking about a phobia. They include fear of dying, fear of losing control, fear of fainting, and feelings of excessive dread.
Treatment for Phobias
Some people who suffer from phobias don’t need treatment, they are able to avoid the object that they fear. For example, if someone has a phobia of spiders, they may be able to cope with this by avoiding them. There are other phobias that cannot be avoided as easy. For example, you may have to fly on an airplane at some point. Phobias are treatable and they can be cured in certain instances. When treating a phobia Psychologists may use a variety of different techniques to help treat phobias.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This is a type of therapy where you work on changing your thinking. This can help you develop practical ways to cope with your phobia. CBT usually involves gradual exposure to your fear. The more you understand and introduce yourself to your fear the less anxious you will feel around it. A mixture of Cognitive Behavioral therapy, Exposure therapy, and desensitization therapy really help with an animal, medical, situational, and specific phobias. For example, if you are agoraphobic your psychologist might begin therapy by asking you to read or look at a picture of a spider. After you become comfortable reading about them and looking at a picture (without any physical or psychological symptoms) you might take a trip into the woods or to a local zoo. This would let you experience real spiders and being around them. The final stage in this type of therapy would be getting you comfortable enough to hold a spider. You are increasing your exposure to the thing that you fear the most in order to gain control of your fears. This treatment would work well for people who have driving phobias as well. As you and your psychologist start to progress through CBT you should feel less anxious about your phobias.
Deep Breathing Techniques: Deep breathing is a simple but very powerful technique that aids in coping with fear and panic attacks. It is known for helping both panic disorders and social phobias. Comfortable deep breathing allows you to relax into a deeper state.
Neuro-Linguistic Phobia: During NLP therapy a therapist will help you remove your phobias. A psychologist will have you create a movie in your head, you will be asked to sit down and relax your entire body. At this point, you will start to imagine your body and mind separating. You should be able to picture your body relaxed on the chair and your second self-floating above it. As your psychologist walks you through this, they will have you watch yourself and start to introduce a movie of your phobia. They will start by showing colored slides of a movie and then freeze the last scene (with the phobia) and change the screen to a dull grey color where you can only see the content on the movie. At this point, the psychologist is going to help you re-program your brain to replay the movie with your phobia and add happy emotions to the movie. Eventually, you will work to disassociate with your phobia, which will help you relieve your phobia and change your response to your phobia to a more positive response.
Guided Meditation: As your Psychologist helps you in guided meditation, they will teach you to recognize your thoughts and feelings and how you react to them. They allow you to observe your thoughts. There is scientific evidence that meditation affects the part of the brain between the amygdala and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and this is where the power of meditation lies. The routine practice of meditation will help decrease the activity in the amygdala and reduce the symptoms of panic that are in relation to your phobias. Meditation can teach you to observe and label sensations rather than responding to them.
Seeking treatment for a phobia is important and it can make long-lasting changes to your life. Phobias can inhibit how we live life and, in some cases, you might miss out on important events because of your fear. Never be ashamed to seek treatment for fear, this is a normal reaction and many people face some type of phobia. Do not let your phobias control you, seek help from your psychologist.
For phobia counseling contact Dr. Clare Albright, Psy.D., Psychologist - CA License PSY11660 at (949) 454-0996 at