A phobia is an intense fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger. Some common phobias include fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of public speaking, fear of spiders, fear of enclosed spaces. Phobias are more common than you might think, affecting about 9% of Americans in one degree or another. It is important to notice that phobias are really just exaggerated normal fear responses. The reason they become exaggerated isn’t always known, but may or may not be related to an experience with the focus of the phobia.
Treatment for phobias centers around one concept- exposure and re-exposure to whatever the object of fear is. Phobias grow in the dark, in the avoidance of whatever scares you. That is where the fear can expand and become more debilitating. The key is to progressively face that which fears you most- which of course, is exactly what you don’t want to do!
I have a bit of a phobia myself, fear of public speaking. When I first started doing workshops and seminars about 5 years ago, I would live under a cloud of what is called anticipatory anxiety- the fear that builds up before you actually have to do what you are afraid of. For a week or more before I had a speaking engagement, I could think of nothing else but how much I dreaded having to do it, and actively avoided preparing for the event. My life was essentially shut down until that event had passed, and I was very anxious during the actual presentation. After 5 years of forcing myself into these situations, I still get nervous but it is nowhere near the degree it was before. Now, I get tense for an hour or two the night before but am able to still be productive in my preparation, and am not anxious during the events themselves at all. I believe a day will come where I will fully enjoy public speaking and not experience much anxiety at all, and there is such freedom and joy in that! Here are my tips to overcome the phobia in your life:
Know your triggers. What specifically will produce an anxious response in you- what kind of enclosed space? What kind of high places? Knowing what will heighten your anxiety is an important step.
Get informed. Are spiders actually dangerous? What do the different sounds mean when on a flight? Sometimes the facts can ground you when having an anxious response.
Consider therapy. A therapist that specializes in anxiety disorders can provide concrete tools and training about how to deal with episodes and reduce their severity.
Take the first step. Once you’ve identified your triggers, your job is to embrace them slowly one step at a time. 5 years ago, I had 3 speaking engagements a year, and I have now built up to 2 per month. Always push yourself for that next step, but don’t expect change overnight. If you are committed to facing your fear, it cannot survive!
I’d love to hear any other tips you have in the comments, how do you face your phobias?