Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Face Up To Phobias

Face up to phobias
You can become phobic about anything at all - spiders (arachnophobia), frogs (batrachophobia), even crossing the street (dromophobia). Here's how to get a grip.
We all have irrational fears that may cause some passing anxiety, but phobias are different: they are specific, persistent, and intense, and can significantly interfere with your life. A phobia focuses on a particular activity, situation or object, which is usually quite unlikely to pose any genuine threat to survival, but the phobic person's response will be as extreme as if it were life-threatening, typically including feelings of blind panic accompanied by sweating, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, trembling, even vomiting and fainting.
Phobias may be rooted in traumatic childhood events. One client who had a morbid fear of rats recalled that, when she was young, her mother had a panic attack when a mouse ran past, and she had to be put to bed with a tranquilliser. After that, even the word "mouse" would fill her with dread, and she couldn't even look at cartoons of mice; her hands would become clammy and she would hyperventilate. Phobias can also be set off by a trauma in adulthood, such as the client I had who had a terror of black cloth, which stemmed from a time when she had been a bystander in a bank robbery where the men involved had worn black cloth masks.
Getting a grip
The good news is that phobias can be overcome. When you are presented with the opportunity to avoid a situation that you know upsets you, it is natural that you will choose to walk - or run - away. However, this solution does not last: you may end up spending so much time and energy organising your life so that you avoid whatever it is that frightens you, that your fear takes control of your whole life. Consider the client I'll call Aimee, who suffered from claustrophobia, the fear of enclsoed spaces: her life revovled around avoiding lifts, fire stairs, shopping arcades, aeroplanes, and any other enclosed space.
As confronting as it seems, if you are determined to get a phobia under control, you have to face your fear. You first must clearly identify what you want to achieve. Make goals as specific as possible, so that anyone else reading your list could do exactly the same task. Rank your goals from easiest to most difficult, then break each one into smaller, achievable steps, again making each step specific. For example, a client who had a social phobias made a list of goals, one of which was to speak in public. Making this goal even more specific, she then broken down her task into three steps: Join Toastmasters and listen to five speeches; Practise a prepared speech in front of a mirror; Give a speech at Toastmasters.
The idea is to begin with the first goal and take time to achieve it before moving on to the second. Keep in mind that you will feel a high degree of anxiety: control it by breathing slowly before each step, and don't let your fear persuade you to walk away. Repeat each step until you feel confident enough to move on, but keep trying. If you leave too long between each attempt, your anxiety increases again.
Coping strategies
* Talk it out: The more secretive you are about fears and phobias, the more anxious and ashamed you become. Choose someone you trust, like a close friend, or ask your health professional for the name of a counsellor or psychologist who specialises in anxiety.
* Respect your body: Eat well, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly. A body that is in good condition and well-sustained is better able to cope with fear and stress.
* Practise relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation involves gently tensing and then relaxing all of your muscles in turn. When time is short, try just tensing those muscles that are currently tight, perhaps in your neck or shoulders, as you inhale for a count of 10, then relax those muscles as you exhale for a further count of 10.
* Experiment with alternatives: Drop a little lavender essential oil on a tissue and inhale the soothing scent; take the homeopathic remedy Aconite to settle a panic attack; and drink chamomile or valerian tea, both are natural, non-addictive tranquillisers.
Therapies to try
* Exposure therapy. This involves gradually confronting the very thing that induces fear, while using breathing exercises and affirmations to reduce anxiety.
* Eye Movement Desensitisation and Re-programming (EMDR) A highly effective technique, reported in the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research (2:3, 2008), which entails talking about the fear while engaging in rapid eye movement. Some psychologists in Australia have EMDR training and offer this therapy.
* Hypnotherapeutic Olfactory Conditioning (HOC) A recently devised therapeutic tool for treating phobias triggered by smell, in which hypnosis is combined with pleasant smells that signal calm and control to the sufferer.

Source : Nature and Health


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