Last update: October 01, 2017
We all have a phobia or know someone who has one; let's learn, therefore, to overcome our phobias!
Some may concern things that do not affect us in everyday life and we can therefore live peacefully ignoring them. For example, having a phobia of snakes or rats will not cause us particular anxiety in everyday life if we live in the city.
The phobia of driving (amaxophobia), on the other hand, that can represent a problem or the phobia of flying, in case you often have to take the plane for work. For this reason, it is important to work on the anxiety given to us by some actually harmless stimuli, which in turn generate avoidance behaviors that fuel panic… Let's find out how to do it!
"The man who is afraid without danger, invents danger to justify his fear"
-Alain Emile Chartier-
How to overcome our phobias
The cause of the phobia is anxiety
Anxiety is the emotion that appears when we have a phobia. This is why we must first of all learn to stem its intensity when it occurs. For this purpose, we can find out what causes this phobia, since sometimes phobias are based on wrong beliefs. By dismantling these beliefs, the phobia disappears. Likewise, it can help us to acquire skills to handle the situation we fear.
Let's see a concrete example: if we are afraid of dogs, perhaps we believe that they are all dangerous. By informing ourselves, however, we will discover that in reality this is not the case. Also, if we find out how to behave with dogs to regulate their behavior in different situations, we will have more resources to use when we are in contact with them. These resources will give us confidence and decrease our level of anxiety; so the threat will no longer seem so great.
"Nothing in life should be feared, it should only be understood"
In addition to informing us about what causes our phobia and learning how to manage it, it is also essential to use a whole series of other tools. To this end, learning to relax can be extremely helpful. There are multiple techniques to do it, it is about finding the one that works best for us, based on the stimulus and our personal characteristics.
The next step: exposing ourselves to the object of our phobia
When what causes the phobia manifests itself, here comes our anxiety too. We feel the heart beating wildly. Breathing accelerates. We freeze and our attention is captured by the stimulus itself. We just want to escape and avoid it, real? And in fact this is exactly what we do. And at that point the anxiety decreases ... but only until the phobic stimulus reappears and we act in the same way against anxiety. And so we reinforce this method.
It is clear that this avoidance strategy is effective in the short term, but not in the long term. So what can we do? We have to stop running away. It seems difficult, of course, but for this very reason the first step is to learn to relax and control our anxiety. So when our phobia appears, we will be able to manage this negative emotion.
For this purpose, it is necessary to expose ourselves a little at a time to the phobic stimulus. That is to say that we must prepare a list of situations related to our phobia and we must order them from minor to major, based on the level of anxiety they cause us. Once this list is made, we need to start putting ourselves in these situations without running away from them.
We will start with those that cause us the lowest level of anxiety, and when we realize that this unpleasant sensation is appearing, we will activate the strategies that we have already learned specifically to manage it (eg: relaxation, attention dissociated from the stimulus, blocking the cycle of thoughts, etc.), rather than avoiding it. Once we get through it, we will be ready to expose ourselves to the next on the list. So, we will realize how, little by little, we could come to calmly expose ourselves to situations that previously caused us great anxiety.
Finally… let's give ourselves a prize!
Whenever we want to turn a behavior into a habit, we need to strengthen ourselves in order to activate it. IS very important, therefore, to recognize ourselves the right to a reward after being exposed to a phobic stimulus and being able to manage anxiety without running away from the situation. After all, we just went through an unpleasant situation… we deserve it!
In this way, we will increase our self-control in the face of this first instinct to escape, but not only. By exposing ourselves to the phobic stimulus, we can also realize that the negative consequences that we previously expected, in reality were not as negative as we thought or even may not even have occurred. This in itself is a reinforcement and motivation to face the next degree of difficulty, which will seem even lower after we have overcome the previous one.
“Anxiety is a thin stream running through the mind. If encouraged, it becomes a river that swallows all other thoughts "
Overcoming our phobias is relatively simple if we know how to do it and if we activate the techniques correctly that we have examined. If you think this problem is present in your life, it is important to consult a suitable psychologist to guide you in this process so that you can take back the reins of your life… Come on!
Images courtesy of Aziz Acharki, Tertia Van Rensburg and Connor McSheffrey.