We all have a phobia or know someone who has one. Some phobias can be about things which don’t condition our daily lives, so we can simply ignore them completely. For example, having a phobia about snakes or rats will not generate much anxiety for you on a daily basis if you live in a city.
However, a phobia of driving (amaxophobia) can be a real problem in this day and age. Or the phobia of flying if you have to travel often for your job. Thus, it’s important to work on the anxiety that some of these inoffensive stimuli produce. Because, in turn, they generate avoidance behaviors which feed this panic…Discover how!
“A man who feels fear without a threat will invent a threat to justify his fear.”
-Alain Emile Chartier-
The key to phobias is anxiety
Anxiety is an emotion which appears when you have a phobia. Thus, above all, you should learn to reduce its intensity when it gets set off. With this objective in mind, you should inform yourself about the things which provoke your phobia, since at times it is produced by mistaken beliefs. By debunking these beliefs, the phobia often goes away. It will be useful to acquire skills that will help you manage the feared situation.
Let’s take a look at an example. If you’re afraid of dogs, you might think that all dogs are dangerous. If you do some research, you’ll see that this is not true. Also, you can look up how to behave around dogs in order to regulate their behavior in different situations. This way, you’ll have more resources available to use during “scary” situations. These resources will give you security and will reduce your level of anxiety. Now the threat will appear less worrying.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Besides acquiring information about the reality of your phobic stimulus and learning how to manage it, it’s fundamental to work on a set of tools. In this sense, it will be of great help to learn how to relax. There are many techniques to achieve this. The thing is to find the one which works best for you, depending on the stimulus and your personal traits.
The next step: exposing yourself to your phobia
When you’re faced with the subject of your phobia, your anxiety is triggered. You feel your heart start racing at full speed. Your breathing accelerates. You become blocked off, and your attention is captured by the stimulus itself. All you want to do is run away or avoid it, right? In fact, this is precisely what you do. That’s when your anxiety lowers… Until the stimulus of your phobia appears again, and you react to your anxiety in the same manner. Thus, this behavioral pattern is reinforced.
It’s clear that this strategy of avoidance is effective in the short term, but not in the long term. So, what can you do? You can stop running away. It sounds hard, but that’s why the first step was to learn how to relax and control your anxiety. Thus, when your phobia appears, you’ll be able to manage that negative emotion.
In order to do this, it’s necessary to start exposing yourself to the phobic stimulus a little bit at a time. That is to say, prepare a list of the situations associated with your phobia and order them from least to most in terms of the degree of anxiety it generates. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have to start putting yourself in each of these situations, one by one, without running away.
Start with the one which generates the least amount of anxiety for you, and when you notice the appearance of this unpleasant emotion, put into practice the strategies you’ve already acquired to manage it. For example, relaxation, dissociated attention of the stimulus, stopping the cycle of thoughts, among others, instead of avoiding it. Once you have overcome it, you’ll be ready to expose yourself to the next situation. This way, you’ll see how over time you’ll slowly be able to expose yourself calmly to situations which used to generate a great deal of anxiety.
Whenever you want to transform a behavior into a habit, you should reinforce it after putting it into practice. In order to do this, it’s important to reward yourself after each exposure to a stimulus and having successfully managed the anxiety without running away. At the end of the day, you have just experienced an unpleasant moment… You deserve it!
This way, you’ll be increasing your self-control towards that first impulse. But not only that, after the exposure you’ll also be able to see that the negative consequences you expected are actually not as bad as you thought they were. Or they may not have occurred at all. This, in itself, is a reinforcement and motivation to confront the next situation of greater difficulty. By the time you’ve conquered the previous worries, the next one won’t seem so bad.
“Anxiety is a river of fear which runs through the mind. If it is fed, it may become a strong current which will drag down all of our thoughts.”
Overcoming a phobia is relatively simple if you know how to do it and if you put the right techniques into practice. Thus, if you think that this problem is present in your life, it’s important that you seek the help of a psychologist. Someone who will guide you through this process so that you may take control of your life again… Go for it!