Do you need help to overcome a fear? Perhaps you’re terrified to ride in an elevator, are hiding from bees when you go outside, or you can’t stand to be in a vehicle after an accident. Fears are all around you, and according to the National Library of Medicine, about ten percent of Americans deal with these phobias daily.
No one wakes up and wants to be afraid of things they encounter every day, but sadly, it’s the reality of a relatively common problem. Some of the most common fears that therapists treat every day include the following:
•Agoraphobia – The fear of being in a public place.
•Claustrophobia – The fear of being in a confined space.
•Arachnophobia – The fear of spiders.
•Acrophobia – The fear of heights.
When a person encounters the thing that they fear, it sends them into an anxiety attack. They may feel lightheaded, nauseous, impending doom, or feel as if they’re going to pass out. Dealing with a phobia can feel like you’re locked in a jail cell, and someone threw away the key.
What commonly happens is that a person alters their life based on their fears. For instance, the individual suffering from agoraphobia might not go to the grocery store anymore, so they order all their groceries online. The fear of being in a public place may grow to the point where they can’t leave their home at all.
Eight Steps to Overcome a Fear
Thankfully, phobias are treatable by using eight simple steps. No, treating the condition won’t happen overnight, but you can retrain your brain to stop living in fear and get out and start living again.
Step #1: Acknowledgment
If you want to overcome fear, you must realize that the phobia you’re dealing with is irrational. The chances of anything happening to you when you get on that elevator are slim. In many cases, your fear is based on a traumatic experience that you had previously.
For instance, if you were stuck in an elevator during an electrical outage, you may recall all the worst-case scenarios you saw in movies. What if you were stopped at a red light and jamming to tunes when a car sideswiped you out of nowhere? It wouldn’t be unheard of for you to be fearful of being stopped at red lights in the future.
Now what you must acknowledge is that the red light didn’t cause your issue, so sitting in front of it doesn’t mean you’re in danger. You’re transferring the fear to the wrong thing. The fault was in the driver, not the stationary object.
Developing a phobia based on a traumatic event is quite common. It’s a phenomenon that has stumped researchers, and they believe it can be many factors, such as:
The cause is not really of the utmost importance. Rather, a phobia’s definition an irrational fear of a situation, person, or object. To overcome fear, you must acknowledge that it exists, and it is taking over your life.
Step #2: Define Your Triggers
Now that you acknowledge that you have a phobia, it’s time to define your triggers. What if you have a fear of being on the freeway. Does all freeway driving scare you, or is it when you go above 55 miles per hour?
Some people don’t like the expressway because going at faster speeds mean that accidents would be catastrophic. Others don’t like the feeling of being sandwiched in between many cars and knowing that they can’t quickly get out should they have a panic attack. Once you identify what triggers your anxiety, you can work on reducing the stress response to it.
Step #3: Understanding the Progression
Now that you’ve identified what triggers you, you need to understand why your body reacts and how to change the sequence. For instance, a typical phobia sequence plays out like this:
•The phobia is triggered.
•You have a physiological and emotional response.
•You experience an unhealthy and adverse outcome.
Since you know the pattern of these phobias, you can work on changing things. The key is to change your response to a healthy one rather than a negative one. It’s common to feel your anxiety arise and have shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea.
These are emotional responses due to an increase in the stress hormones in your body. However, you can use adequate coping skills to lessen these responses to overcome a fear.
Starting with the trigger, a counselor can help you recognize how irrational your fears are and how they can be overcome. For instance, there is nothing dangerous about being in an elevator or on the freeway. It would help if you changed your mindset about these things to create more rational beliefs.
In almost all phobias, fear is not dangerous at all; rather, people are transferring their anxiety to something that is blameless. No wonder experts call anxiety the great pretender as it makes you see and believe things that aren’t true.
Shift to a more positive mindset and push the negative responses aside.
Step #5: Learning to Self-Soothe
Have you ever seen a baby twirl their hair or suck their thumb when they’re upset? They have learned how to self-soothe when they are facing an emotional crisis. While you don’t want to act in the same manner, you can use the same principles to overcome fear.
It would help if you found a way to ground yourself and become centered. The key is to keep your emotions in check so that you don’t spin out of control. No, you may not be able to remove yourself from a stressful situation, but you can soothe the intense reaction you have to it.
The person who is stopped at the red light and fearing an accident can try a counting exercise. Counting is an excellent way to turn your mind from the negative stimuli to focus on something else. You can even make a game of it where you see about how many seconds you must sit at each light.
The brain cannot focus on two things, so when you’re counting, then you’re less likely to think about the accident that you feel is impending.
Step #6: Regulate Your Response
Now, you must deal with the emotional response to your phobia. To overcome a fear, you must process what you are feeling, learn to regulate the response, and find a resolution. It sounds easier than it is, but you can do it.
For instance, when you feel your heart start racing, you should call it out. Say something like, “I feel my heart racing, and I feel a little bit nauseous, but I know this is going to pass soon.” The key is to use self-talk to deescalate the situation.
Speak it out loud so that you can hear yourself say that you’re in no danger. Your words have power behind them, so when you speak things into existence, you call an end to this phobic reaction.
Step #7: Face Your Fear Head On
Now it’s time to challenge yourself. You’ve learned that you have a problem, you know how to handle the increasing emotional response, now it’s time to face your fear head-on. Exposure therapy is a powerful tool because it allows you to feel the negative stimuli, get a grip on your emotional response, and eventually overcome the irrational fear.
A therapist will start you off by slowly exposing you to the phobia. If it’s spiders you fear, then they may put one in the room with you to start. Gradually, they will build up the situation until you might be able to touch the insect. Once you learn to regulate your fears, you can interact with spiders without issue.
Step #8: Setting Yourself Free
Once you can get on that elevator, the expressway, or hold a spider in your hand, then you are setting yourself free from the fear that held you back. To overcome a fear is a process that isn’t going to happen overnight, but you can learn how to manage your irrational angst and stop letting it hold you back.
The mental health community has categorized phobias into three distinct categories: specific phobias, agoraphobia, and social phobias. Within these three categories are many subcategories. It doesn’t really matter where you fall within these guidelines, as the treatment is all the same.
You must learn to control your emotional response so that you can lessen your anxiety. Yes, your stress levels will rise when you’re faced with your fears, but you can take control of the situation.
Given time and a good therapist, you have the power within you to overcome your fear. It’s all about quieting the noise inside your mind caused by irrational anxiety. What fears are holding you back?