Fear and Phobias

I have experienced intense fear a few times in my life and I believe that the fear, together with the adrenaline pumping through my veins gave my mind the clarity and my body the strength to act quickly.  It was that automatic fight-or-flight response (together with instinct) that allowed me to respond quickly to the treat that I was facing.  I would fight as much as I can and would then run away as fast as I can.  Fear is an ancient emotion and actually a normal thing to experience and whether you experience fear intensely, mildly or on a medium scale depends on the situation and on you as person.  This feeling of fear can last only a moment, or it can last much longer.  Have you noticed that when you sense danger your body reacts in response?  Your heartrate accelerates, your breathing becomes more rapid and your blood pressure rises.

I am not a great fan of crowds, it is not a phobia, I just prefer the openness of space and calmness around me.  Now, imagine if you lived in the City That Never Sleeps, New York City and you had a phobia of crowds.  I am sure that living in such a major city would pose a problem to you and could cause you to withdraw from society and most healthy interactions with others.  We all experience fears and even irrational fears throughout our lives.  Irrational fears could be the fear of visiting the dentist, something as harmless as visiting the hairdresser or even fearing a spider that is casually climbing up the wall.  It is when these fears become so intense and severe that it interferes with normal life that it gets classified as a phobia.

Before I get to the different physical and emotional symptoms and ways that you can help yourself overcome irrational fears and phobias, I thought that it might be interesting for you to see some of the phobias that could make you realize that almost any object or situation can become the source of fear.

Achluophobia – fear of darkness

Acrophobia – fear of heights

Aerophobia – fear of flying

Algophobia – fear of pain

Alektorophobia – fear of chickens

Aichmophobia – fear of needles or pointed objects

Amaxophobia – fear of riding in a car

Androphobia – fear of men

Anthrophobia – fear of flowers

Anthropophobia – fear of people or society

Aphenphosmphobia – fear of being touched

Arachibutyrophobia – fear of peanut butter

Arithmophobia – fear of numbers

Ataxophobia – fear of disorder and untidiness

Atychiphobia – fear of failure

Autophobia – fear of being alone

Bacteriophobia – fear of bacteria

Bathmophobia – fear of stairs or steep slopes

Bibliophobia – fear of books

Botanophobia – fear of plants

Cacophobia – fear of ugliness

Catagelophobia – fear of being ridiculed

Catoptrophobia – fear of mirrors

Chromophobia – fear of colours

Chronomentrophobia – fear of clocks

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns

Cyberphobia – fear of computers

Cynophobia – fear of dogs

Dendrophobia – fear of trees

Dentophobia – fear of dentists

Dystychiphobia – fear of accidents

Ecophobia – fear of the home

Elurophobia – fear of cats

Entomophobia – fear of insects

Ephebiphobia – fear of teenagers

Euphobia – fear of hearing good news

Gamophobia – fear of marriage

Genuphobia – fear of knees

Geniophobia – fear of chins

Glossophobia – fear of speaking in public

Gynophobia – fear of women

Haphephobia – fear of touch

Hemophobia – fear of blood

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia – fear of long words

Hydrophobia – fear of water

Iatrophobia – fear of doctors

Insectophobia – fear of insects

Koinoniphobia – fear of rooms

Koumpounophobia – fear of buttons

Leukophobia – fear of the colour white

Lockiophobia – fear of childbirth

Mageirocophobia – fear of cooking

Megalophobia – fear of large things

Melanophobia – fear of the colour black

Microphobia – fear of small things

Mnemophobia – fear of memories

Mysophobia – fear of dirt and germs

Necrophobia – fear of death or dead things

Noctiphobia – fear of the night

Nosocomephobia – fear of hospitals

Nyctophobia – fear of the dark

Obesophobia – fear of gaining weight

Octophobia – fear of the figure 8

Ombrophobia – fear of rain

Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes

Ornithophobia – fear of birds

Panophobia – fear of everything

Papyrophobia – fear of paper

Pathophobia – fear of disease

Pedophobia – fear of children

Philematophobia – fear of kissing

Philophobia – fear of love

Phobophobia – fear of phobias

Podophobia – fear of feet

Pyrophobia – fear of fire

Sciophobia – fear of shadows

Scolionophobia – fear of school

Scoptophobia – fear of being stared at

Selenophobia – fear of the moon

Sociophobia – fear of social evaluation

Somniphobia – fear of sleep

Tachophobia – fear of speed

Technophobia – fear of technology

Tonitrophobia – fear of thunder

Trypanophobia – fear of needles/injections

Tryphphobia – fear of holes

Verbophobia – fear of words

Venustraphobia – fear of beautiful women

Verminophobia – fear of germs

Zoophobia – fear of animals

I wanted to make this list much shorter but decided that it was far too interesting to read.  Phobias falls into four major categories, namely the natural environment, animals, specific situations or medical treatments or issues.  You might have had a slight inner smile at some of these listed phobias, but phobias can be crippling and devastating to the people suffering from them.

Where do these crippling phobias come from?  According to research phobias and irrational fears often stem from our childhood (but not exclusively) because fear is a natural reaction to feeling unsure and vulnerable and their experiences are all new and unfamiliar.  It is rare for phobias to develop after 30 years of age.  When we think of how children develop and how their mannerism changes, we also notice how their anxieties and fears change as they grow and develop.  Babies tend to present anxiety toward strangers and therefore cling quite adamantly to their caregivers.  They also do not like loud noises and large objects.  Children between 10 and 18 months are more likely to experience separation anxiety when both parents leave whereas children between 4- and 6-years old exhibit anxiety about things that are not based on reality, such as monsters and ghosts and they prefer not to sleep alone.  From the age 7 through to 12 children show anxiety that reflects real circumstances such as getting physically hurt, a natural disaster occurring or performance in school.

Having a phobia has nothing to do with immaturity or weakness.  It is possible for some phobias to develop when you experience something scary with a specific thing or situation.  For example, you took a flight and there was a lot of turbulence that shook the plane and (to put the cherry on the symbolic cake) the plane that you were on was old and creaked throughout the whole flight and you are sure that you spotted a few rust-dots.  Now, after your fearful experience, every time that you think of flying somewhere, your experience triggers a strong fear reaction that is a response of your brain to protect you.  Basically, it triggers a false alarm that generates intense fear that is inappropriate and not in proportion to the situation.

If you are suffering from a phobia (or sometimes more than one), you might have noticed that your symptoms do not only include physical symptoms, but also emotional symptoms.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Churning stomach
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Racing or pounding heart
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Tingling sensations

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Knowing that you are overreacting, but still feel unable to control the fear
  • Feeling overwhelming panic
  • Feeling detached from yourself
  • Feeling like you are going to pass out or die
  • Feeling the intense need to escape
  • Feeling of going crazy

Interesting though is that all phobias are treatable even though you might experience persistent fear and in spite of knowing that your claims are unfounded and has no grounds.  Good news is that phobias can be overcome with the right tools and help.

As a warning, your irrational fears and phobias will not disappear overnight.  You need to be persistent and determined to overcome your phobias.  Become willing to make the changes, face the challenges and envision the prospect of living a full and productive life.  Here are a few tools that you can practise.

  • Write it Down: Grab hold of your trusted journal and write all your phobias and irrational fears down.  If you are only aware of one, that is fine, I just want to ask you to write it down so that you have a starting point.  If you have more than one phobia or irrational fear, write it down, starting with the less intense and working your way down towards your most intense and crippling fear and phobia.  You have just taken the first important step.  You have acknowledged your phobia/fear and now the real work can start.
  • Stop Avoiding: Avoiding your phobias may give you temporary relief, but it can cause more stress, anxiety and fear down the line.  It might escalate to such an extreme stage where you might find yourself continuously worrying about the possibility of encountering the feared situation and avoid anything and everything that might bring you into contact with it.  It becomes vicious and can consume your thoughts and actions entirely.  You might even start to notice that you avoid reminders of the thing and not just the thing itself that is the cause of your phobia.  You change your lifestyle to avoid the situation/event/environment/person/animal and you might even start to exhibit serious physical symptoms.
  • Exposure and Support: With your safety and the safety of others in mind, take the first item on your list and think of a situation where you can experience that fear in a safe environment and situation.  For example, if you have a phobia of spiders, you could go to a Reptile and Insect Zoo where they keep the creepy-crawlies in secure and clean terrariums.  You can take a friend with you who knows a bit about spiders and who can give you a good dose of morale support.  Without feeling threatened, you can view the little creatures from a safe distance without a spray can of insecticide in your hand.  Through the glass, you can learn more about them, become a bit more comfortable around them and you might start to appreciate their hunting and camouflage skills a tiny bit more.  This technique is wonderful to give you the confidence to face your intense fears.  Please note that I do not want you to face you fears alone, have a friend or loved one with you who understands you and who will be there for you should you have a breakdown.  Another thing that I want you to take out of this is that I just want you to experience it a little bit at a time until you are comfortable in dealing with your phobia or intense fear.

As you work through your fears and phobias (starting from the least intense to the most intense), you will gain more confidence in yourself and will gain knowledge on more healthy coping skills that you can employ when experiencing fearful situations.

  • Learn a Little: When you experience intense fears or phobias it could be beneficial to learn more about the object/environment/situation/animal before you expose yourself to your fears and phobias as mentioned above.  Challenge yourself to look for something positive and good instead of focusing on the scary and negative.  Is there a safer way to experience those things without feeling as if it is life threatening?  Will you be able to take it one step at a time and will you be able to observe the tiniest bit of positivity instead of allowing it to cripple you?  Will it be safe for you to do so and who can you count on for support?
  • Get Started: This is likely the most difficult step to take.  It is often easier to ignore the phobia and fearful situation than to take the risk of facing it head-on.  Once you decide to take the steps in confronting your fears, you are already well on your way in melting your fears away.  Even if you must meticulously plan on where, when and how you are going to confront your fears, do so.  I want you to feel in control instead of the phobias running havoc with your life.
  • Relax: Among following our passions and living the best lives that we could possibly live, we should all breathe, but not in the usual way.  I have written about deep breathing exercises before and I cannot emphasise this enough.  Sit or stand comfortably when doing this exercise.  Place your hands on either your stomach or chest so that you can feel your body react to the breaths that you take.  Take a deep breath in through your nose (4-8 counts), hold it for a second or two and slowly blow that breath out through your mouth until your lungs feels empty (4-8 counts).  As you blow the breath out, relax your muscles so that you can feel the tension flow out of you.  Do this a few times until you feel more in control of what is happening to you and your body.  Focus on the good and your inner strength and push away all the negative thoughts and emotions that you are experiencing.
  • Soothing Self-Talk: “I can do this”, “I am brave”, “I am in control” and “I believe in myself” are just a few examples of what you can say to yourself when facing irrational fears or phobias.  You are aware of your own strengths and abilities and maybe you just need a reminder of what you are capable of and what you can conquer.
  • Grounding: This exercise requires you to engage one or more of your senses, such as taste, smell, touch, sound, sight or even through movement.  Play around a bit to see what works for you, because what works for one might not work for others.  You might want to use an Anxiety Bracelet that can help with touch and sight or you can light scented candles where you can engage your smell sense.  Taking a walk or jumping around like a loon is highly effective at relieving anxiety and by listening to soothing music or the sounds of nature that engages your sound sense helps to bring you back to the here and now and engages your mind in what is relaxing instead of what is fearful.
  • Challenge your Negative Thoughts: Do you overestimate how bad things are going to be if you are exposed to the situation that you fear the most and underestimate your ability to cope with the situation?  Phobias do this to our minds.  People suffering from phobias tend to become fortune tellers, overgeneralising and catastrophizing situations or events.  When you experience these negative thoughts that is associated with your phobias, write them down so that you can begin to challenge them.  Ask yourself if there is any evidence that contradicts your negative thoughts.  Continue to investigate whether there is anything you can do to resolve the situation if it does occur.  By doing your investigation you will be able to notice whether you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  Are you just giving up or are you willing to come up with solutions to prevent a breakdown when confronted by the situation/event/environment/animal?
  • Switch Seats: What would you say to a friend who has this fear.  Would you give them helpful advice, or would you tell them to hide away and never face their fears?  This could broaden your perspective and give you another way of thinking about what you are facing.
  • Professional Therapy: Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps a great deal.  Therapists gradually guide you through a series of escalating steps on how to confront your phobias and fears.  Here you will learn understanding and reacting to the source of your phobias, how to cope easier and how to control your own feelings and thoughts.  It is highly recommended and one of the techniques that I use often within my private practice.  Hypnotherapy can also be very effective for specific phobias.
  • Medication: Although I am not a big fan of medications, sometimes it is necessary to use these chemicals to help our brains to function the way that they should be.  Beta blockers help with the physical signs of anxiety that often accompanies phobias.  Antidepressants affect the serotonin levels in the brain that results in better moods.  Tranquilisers help reduce anxiety symptoms.  Please speak open and honestly to your medical practitioner before deciding to take this route.  There are many side effects and warnings that must be taken seriously.

If you do feel that your phobias and fears are out of proportion to reality, please get help.  One more little thing that you can do is to notice how other people react when facing the same situation that you are fearful about.  Do they react in a way where they display more control and no real fear?  How can you use these people to navigate yourself around your own experiences?

It is tricky to confront your own fears and to think rationally about them.  Sometimes we have to dig deep and explore our own beliefs, values, thoughts and feelings at a raw level.  Maybe you or somebody you know are straining under the weight of the effects of phobias and irrational fears.  You are not alone anymore.  There is help and either me or any qualified therapist can help you overcome these crippling experiences that you are going through.  Please reach out.  Let me help you gain a better perspective and give you additional tools in coping.

Before I go, please put your safety and the safety of others first.  When facing your fears, whether they are minor, medium, major, irrational or full-blown phobias, please do not put yourself in harm’s way.  Be safe and kind to yourself.

As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following might give you a bit more insight.  The first one is from Judy Blume who said, “Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them.  How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives.  To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”, and this one from Eleanor Rooseveld who said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along’.  You must do the things you think you cannot do.” and as special little bonus, here is a third quote for you from Henry Ford who said “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”.

As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Video CallsZoom Video MeetingsWhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible.  I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time.  Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health.

Thank you very much for reading my blog.  I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere.  Please send any feedback or comments to info@gemtherapy.co.za and remember to have a look out for a new blog every second week.

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