Are Irrational Fears Controlling Your Life?
Do fear of heights, flying, enclosed spaces, blood, vomit, and elevators make it difficult to participate in desired activities? Are you tired of experiencing panic attacks, elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, and trembling whenever you are in the presence of your fear?
Perhaps you have been relying on avoidance in order to get around your fear, but you’ve noticed that this has only increased the impact of your anxiety. Maybe other people are noticing these effects as well, and this affects your personal, social, school, or work life.
Specific Phobias Are Different From Worries
There is a wide variety of things for which a person might develop a specific phobia. Some of the most common that may be affecting you are heights, flying, elevators, storms, needles, blood, and vomiting. Or maybe you have developed a fear of dental procedures, enclosed spaces, costumed characters, or animals—especially dogs, snakes, spiders, and insects.
If you have specific phobias, you may attempt to manage your anxiety in a number of ways, most specifically with avoidance. And when avoidance is not possible, you might engage in “safety behaviors,” which are actions or routines intended to make the situation feel safe so that you can get through it. This might include looking away from the object, shielding yourself, or holding tightly to prevent falling or fainting. While these behaviors may help you in the short term, they prevent you from learning that the feared situation or object is safe.
The reason for your fear might initially feel or seem justified, but the way you try to deal with it has only increased your anxiety. There is a better way. With the help of specialized treatment, you can learn how to manage your specific phobias.
Anxiety Is A Part Of Life, But Debilitating Fear Does Not Need To Be
Most people have situations or objects that can bring about a level of discomfort or anxiety, and therefore, they prefer to limit their interaction with these experiences. But phobias are different. A specific phobia is a mental health condition in which the person experiences a strong, irrational fear of a creature, object, or situation that poses little to no actual danger. To obtain a diagnosis, the fear or anxiety must be persistent, usually lasting at least six months, and always provoking fear and anxiety when it is experienced.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that an estimated 12.5% of US adults will experience a specific phobia at some point in their life.* Although most individuals can recognize and label their fears as irrational, oftentimes even thinking about the feared object or situation can bring about anxiety symptoms.
Why Do Some People Develop Specific Phobias?
There is not one exact answer regarding why some individuals are more likely to develop specific phobias than others. We do know that there is a biological and behavioral component to anxiety. Many times, these fears get resolved by themselves with time, but sometimes assistance is needed.
If there is someone in the family that has an anxiety disorder, an individual might be at an increased risk to develop an anxiety disorder themself. Additionally, a traumatic or difficult life event might have led to some unhelpful thought patterns regarding a specific situation, object, or experience, creating a phobia. Avoidance and repetition is likely only reinforcing and strengthening the fear. This behavior pattern emphasizes and speaks to the behavioral component of anxiety.
Even though your reason for developing or struggling with a specific phobia might differ from others, treatment can help break the pattern that has been established, allowing you to interact with your fear in a different way.
Treatment For Specific Phobias Can Change Your Relationship With Your Fear
Education is an important part of therapy. With our guidance, you will learn about the cycle of anxiety and how avoidance and safety behaviors only confirm and heighten your fears. You will work with your therapist to create a treatment plan that helps you face your specific phobia while learning skills for tolerating your discomfort.
Therapy sessions for specific phobia disorders are focused on providing you with evidence-based treatment to reduce the impact of your fears. Alongside your therapist, you will examine thoughts and behaviors that are indirectly reinforcing your fears and work to slowly begin to face and remove them.
Behavioral Therapy for Treating Phobias
The most evidence-based treatment for specific phobias is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Sessions utilizing these treatment methods are systematic and build upon each other.
ERP involves creating a hierarchy of your fears and coming up with a plan for gradually and repetitively facing them. These exposures might start with pictures, cartoons, and statements and then progress to interactions with the actual feared item or situation. In the process, your therapist will assist you with removing safety behaviors, including avoidance, that are keeping you stuck in the cycle and reinforcing your fear. The idea is, the more you face something scary, the less scary it will become. We are able to create exposure practices for almost all fears, even if it is not something we can create in real life.
CBT treatment for phobias assists you in learning to identify thoughts about your specific fears that are unhelpful and only keeping you stuck. You will learn to reframe your thoughts, challenging the overestimation and catastrophic thinking that anxiety conveys.
With the assistance of these treatment methods and time and repetition, you will be able to see that your fears about something that might initially be uncomfortable or elicit anxiety can and will decrease.
Perhaps Therapy for Specific Phobias Sounds Beneficial, But You Still Have Some Concerns…
I had a negative experience with my fear. What if I am not strong enough to face it again?
Many times fears can be elicited due to a real-life event. Your therapist will validate and explore that experience with you while assisting you in seeing how your anxiety is overestimating the probability of that feared outcome happening again.
This is something with which ERP and CBT will directly help. When creating your hierarchy, we will slowly and systematically approach those fears, starting with what you feel you are capable of initially and progressing from there. You will be an active participant in determining the direction and speed of your exposures.
I am afraid that my therapist will think that my fear is stupid and judge me.
This is a common worry, and you can rest assured that we understand. Many of our clients struggle with a variety of different types of phobias, and we do not believe there is a phobia that we have not seen or worked with before! We know that initiating therapy is a scary process in itself. But we believe you will see that we aim to help you feel supported and validated.
I only have a fear of this one situation/object. Why would I need therapy?
Therapy may not be needed if your fear does not interfere with your life. For example, if you are afraid of snakes but do not need to enter environments with snakes, you do not need to treat this fear. However, if your fear is interfering with your life or impacting your daily functioning, therapy can help you to treat and manage your phobia so that you can live the life you want. Treatment is also often time-limited, and you can make progress in a relatively short amount of time.
Your Fear Does Not Need To Control You
If a persistent fear of a specific item or situation is taking over your life and eliciting undesired anxiety symptoms, treatment with The OCD & Anxiety Center can help you learn skills to face these phobias and alleviate your anxiety with time and repetition. To address further concerns or schedule an appointment, please call us at (630) 522-3124 or email us at email@example.com.