Let us explore what a phobia is.

Some people suffer from fears that are irrational even to them, it is not really known why this happens. Phobia's tend to be extreme fears which will interrupt with daily function and place severe restrictions on the lives of the people who have one.

The difference between a fear and a Phobia is simple.

To give an example if we look at someone whom has a fear of dogs. When they come into contact with a dog they may well become nervous but their daily function would not really be interrupted, but for someone who has a Phobia of dogs this may be a very different story. They may avoid dogs altogether, avoid any place they think they may see a dog, not look at books or posters which may show pictures of dogs and in extreme cases may become completely housebound as the only way of avoiding dogs altogether.

The level of fear that comes with suffering a phobia is quite extreme and would severely interrupt daily function often taking away the ability to even go to work. 

The fear level with a Phobia is excessive and irrational. People who have a Phobia will rationally know this but will feel powerless against the fearful thoughts and anticipation anxiety that they are having. They will want to avoid feeling their fear at all costs and will look at ways to instinctively protect themselves for example,  they may use avoidance of any thought or situation that may be associated with these feelings of fear rising.

You are training themselves into this fear.

Phobia's are the opposite how you generally feel about fear. When you sit on a roller coaster, you feel fear but in the main you do know that you are safe, however, when a phobia frightens you, you may known that your fear is irrational but deep down you still feel very unsafe, like you have no control over this fear or feelings.

Learning to accept and face your phobia is a very brave thing to do. Remember the level of fear that you feel is comparable to being in a lions cage. It does take courage but ultimately you have to show yourself that your fear is excessive and not rational, in a way in which the fear levels you are experiencing come back down to manageable proportions.

The concept of dealing with the actual fear that you feel when you have a phobia is the same method as calming the fear associated with any anxiety, however a combination of education along with exposure therapy seems to be the most effective form of treatment.

It can be helpful to look at and understand the different types of Phobia.

Well interestingly there are actually very few types of Phobia. The best known tends to be Agoraphobia.

Main types of Phobia include:

  • Fear of insects of animals - such as spiders, snakes, birds, dogs etc
  • Fear of being taken away from a safe place - This could mean driving, leaving the house, travelling by bus, train, plane, car, losing your keys that unlock your house, a method of transport breaking down outside of your safe zone.
  • Fear of being trapped and confined - This phobia often goes together with the phobia above. examples include, meetings, cinemas, Lifts, theme park rides, trains that break down.
  • Social Fears - Meeting new people, socialising, public speaking, eating in front of others
  • Fears of Natural Phenomena - Thunder and lightning, storms, water, heights or darkness, the sky
  • Fears of Health and Illness- Vomiting, hospitals, needles, seeing blood or worry of serious illness

Phobia's work on the same principal as with the panic cycle, there is a cycle happening to keep you stuck and people who have phobias tend to develop fear avoidance behaviours that keep them stuck.

Fear does tend to have a natural life span and would usually die away itself, it stays around only when we set our own parameters of what makes us scared and within our own set parameters we feel safe. We do this by creating avoidance strategies to "keep us safe" from our fear and then these become a habit that keeps us stuck in the cycle. 

The thing is you cannot avoid yourself and the way you feel, if you don't allow your feelings to be felt and process, then you cannot heal and most importantly most of the time you are fearing your fearful feeling training yourself to be scared of the feeling of fear.

You are training yourself into feeling this fear and so it is entirely possible to train yourself back out of it.

The most disabling part of a Phobia is not the object of fear, it is the steps that we are forming to protect ourselves which keep this whole process going. These are your safety behaviours.

We are trying to control our fears and the effort we spend controlling force us to limit our lives and give up on situations or activities that we usually enjoy. Safety behaviours are rituals that you think you are using to protect yourself, however all they do is keep fear going, keeping it strong.

Life restriction with Phobia's tends to depend on what it is you fear or where you live. For example, if your object of fear was a snake, maybe if you lived in the UK, this phobia would not affect your daily function like it would to be fearful of dogs for example.

Avoidance plays a key part in keeping our Phobia alive, removing fear in the short term, but the fear grows stronger in the long term. Going towards our fears is the only way to remove them, we have to do the opposite to what our instinct is telling us to do to protect ourselves to overcome our fear, this means that in the short term our fear level must go up to make our fear come down and go away in the future.

Phobia's are very treatable problems and can usually be treated successfully without the need for long term medication or therapy. Having a good understanding of the bigger picture and the cycle that keeps you stuck while also having the courage to begin to expose yourself to your fear and break down your unhelpful habits, will give you back your self control and quality of life effectively.

Exposure to your object of fear, is all about speaking to your mind and body in a way that it understands so that you can reverse the cycle of fear and dread that you now find yourself in. Expose is not just about "Getting used to the fear". It is about retraining your Amygdala to stop activating the fear response inside you when there is no real danger.

People whom suffer with Anxiety/Panic symptoms and Phobia's know that their fears are irrational, but still they try to avoid feeling the fear in anyway, doing everything they can to not feel the feelings. By learning to avoid this fear rather than show themselves that they can feel it and nothing will happen, strengthens it. You cannot avoid yourself or the natural process that your body must go through to process feelings and heal.

By beginning to expose yourself to the object or situation that you fear in manageable steps, you can begin to let go of your fear and the fear response will stop activating every time you have a thought of or see your object of fear. You have to show yourself that your fears are out of proportion in a way in which your body and mind understand and calm down.

You have a clear choice to keep handling your fear by avoidance and limiting your life or you can choose to go through short term discomfort to achieve lasting longer term quality of life or you can do what you are doing now, using avoidance techniques to take down your short term fear while not really solving anything, staying stuck and feeling must worse over the longer term.

Exposure to your Phobia should start small and gradual. Throwing yourself off the deep end immediately would completely over face you when dealing with the irrationality and level of fear which usually comes with a Phobia.

For example, if you had a fear of Lifts then it would be almost silly to expect that you could just go and travel 100 floors in a lift with no problems, to remove your fear it would be much more sensible to break this down into manageable steps.

You could maybe handle things better by:

1. Approaching the lift and pressing the button to call the lift to our floor. Noticing how you are feeling and if you are feeling fearful, noticing that you are dealing with the fear and managing the task you set out to do. If you do really feel fear, that is great it is what you want to happen. For long term fear to go down, short term fear must go up. Once you feel comfortable enough performing step one, you can then move onto step two.

2. This time you could step into the lift with someone holding the door open so you do have the option to step out again but can get a feel for what the inside of the lift is like. After performing this enough times to feel comfortable you could then move to step three.

3.Step three could be about allowing  doors to close while you are inside and then push the door open button again to let yourself back out- repeat this step enough that you feel comfortable enough to move to step 4.

4. Now you arrive at the point where we feel comfortable enough to travel one floor. If you feel fearful here then remember this is good, the feeling of fear must come in order to remove it in the long term.

After step four, it would be about building on your confidence to travel in any lift confidently and comfortably when you need to use one.

Having a bad day in the future where you feel scared to get into a lift and feel like you have taken a step backwards is a normal occurrence to panic symptoms. It is not a straight forward road from struggle to no struggle, there will be bad days or setbacks on the way. This is normal human function and nothing to do with Anxiety. If you have a setback day, work through it then get right back up the day after, keeping your end goal of becoming free from the constraints of your Phobia in mind.

 

It must be understood though that ultimately it is you that is driving this and you alone that will remove it. Take the fear of lifts for example, a Therapist could work with you and get you to the point where you will approach and step into a lift, but it is inside that lift that you will learn to deal with the fear yourself.

This has to come from you.