Conquering Fear – How To Fight Your Phobia

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The guide below is a brief, start up guide for those wishing to conquer their phobia (or phobias) once and for all. For ease of use, the fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) is used as an example – though the steps are applicable to any fear.

1. Expose yourself to the fear.

If you have a phobia, you probably go out of your way to avoid the thing that causes you to feel afraid. In the claustrophobia example, you may refuse to use lifts, as they make you feel uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, by avoiding the scenario you fear – the lift – you are actually increasing your overall fear. Avoidance does nothing but make a situation worse, and you need to face the fear before you can conquer it. That means getting into a lift, even if just for one floor. Make yourself do it.

2. Positive reinforcement.

After you have forced yourself to confront your fear once, you need to make it a positive experience. This can be having a dessert you enjoy following your ordeal, or buying something nice from your favorite store. Do this as soon as possible following your first attempt to confront the fear – in the example, you should tuck into a cupcake the second you step out of the lift.

3. Rinse, and repeat.

The way to conquer a phobia is to do the above, over and over again. As you do so, you will learn to manage the fear, and you will also learn that there really is no danger in that which panicked you so badly before. By continuing to expose yourself to your fear deliberately and then allowing a congratulatory moment when you succeed, over time, you can rid yourself of the fear forever.

Terrors and Frights: Common (And Not So Common) Phobias

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A phobia is an extreme, fearful reaction to an object, animal, insect, feeling or circumstance – they are wide and varied, and often have no rational explanation. The vast majority of the populace have at least one phobia, and many people go as far as to seek help for conquering their phobia from medical professionals. So what are we all so afraid of?

The most common phobias tend to involve insects and creepy crawlies. Polls done in the United Kingdom suggest spiders are the most common source of phobias, and other many-legged creatures also cause fearful reactions. Mice are another common source of fear, as are their larger cousins, rats.

In terms of animals, dogs tend to rank high on the phobia-causing list. This can be any dog, not just a big, growling Alsatian – some people admit to being afraid of the meek and mild poodle! The other domestic favorite, cats, also contribute their fair share when it comes to phobias.

Other phobias are more based on situations. Many people are afraid of heights, which connects with another popular fear – the fear of flying in aircraft. Another common situational fear is crowded spaces, known as claustrophobia, with sufferers refusing to use lifts. Furthermore, some adults even confess to being afraid of the dark.

More interesting are the uncommon phobias. Amazingly, a phobia of buttons is fairly common, consigning thousands of people to a life with zips. Other odd phobias include mirrors, large structures in general and even humble cotton wool. When it comes to phobias, there really is something for everyone!

Phobia vs. Fear – Is There A Difference?

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Everybody has fears. We fear losing our jobs, our homes, our way of life. We may even be a little afraid of the dark or nervous when confronted with a spider. Fear is just nature’s way of warding us from danger, telling us to flee from things we are subconsciously afraid of. Yet in some cases, fear becomes something more – a phobia.

There is a difference between general fear and a clinical phobia. The difference is usually how extreme the reaction to the object of the fear or phobia is. If, for example, when you see a snake, you feel uncomfortable and your heart races a little, you are afraid of the snake. This is a normal reaction based on survival instincts. If, however, you see a snake and want to scream or run away, you begin to sweat or tremble or experience other symptoms of anxiety, then you have a phobia.

Sometimes, a phobia can become so pronounced the person cannot even say what it is they are afraid of – the word alone is enough to bring on a physical reaction of terror. Thousands of people refuse to even come in to contact with the object of their phobia if they can avoid it, such as refusing to fly on aircraft if they have a fear of flying. Phobias are an extreme, natural overreaction to everyday things, events and circumstances.

Phobias are primarily dealt with using exposure therapy, where a person forces themselves to ‘confront’ their fear. This can involve placing themselves in the same room as a snake, or boarding an aircraft. While terrifying, this kind of therapy is hugely effective, and phobias can be managed once and for all.

What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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We all have things in our past we do not like and the memories of which make us feel uncomfortable. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is where a past event comes back to haunt someone’s present, to the point where it affects their ability to live a normal life.

Sometimes, these events are what the rest of the populace would consider small matters that should bear no relevance. This, however, does not mean that these events cannot trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As long as the past event has a bearing on how a person feels in the present, it is severe enough to that individual and therefore relevant.

What is a bearing on the present? Well, those with PTSD will find they cannot function normally due to some fear invading their life. They may often feel depressed, withdraw from society or fearful in what should be normal situations. They may experience flashbacks – intense periods of memory – to the event that has caused the problem, as well as general anxious feelings of fear, worry and stress.

Sometimes, the event is a large, life-altering event such as an assault or house fire. The sufferer may seem find after the initial event, but will later go on to develop PTSD – sometimes years later. Not everyone who has experienced trauma goes on to be diagnosed with PTSD, however.

PTSD, like all anxiety disorders, can be controlled but not cured. Treatment is usually behavior therapy with a psychologist, and sometimes counseling and even medication can help one overcome fearful memories.

How Do I Know I Have An Anxiety Disorder?

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Many of the most common anxiety disorders, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Social Anxiety Disorder, are well known. This, naturally, may lead people who suffer with anxiety or their nerves to wonder if they themselves are suffering from these clinically defined illnesses.

While some sufferers are born with their anxiety disorders, many find that they do not “trigger” with their illness until later on in life. Do not assume that because you have previously had no problems with anxiety that you will not be suffering from a disorder now or in the future; they can appear quite suddenly. If you have “triggered”, you will find a definitive change in your thought patterns and behavior cycles. This is something you will notice as different from normal and how you usually are, and is often easily recognizable as an anxiety problem. If this sounds familiar, seek medical help – but have cheer, for those who “trigger” and can definitely identify a change in their behavior are more likely to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

The problem is more compressed for those that are born with an anxiety disorder, as they have no period of “normality” to be able to compare their thought patterns with. These sufferers’ tend to exhibit symptoms from an early age, and will often be diagnosed by the time they are 18.

If, however, you are a somewhat nervy person, you must ask yourself: do my nerves stop me living life as I should? Are you able to live a normal, functional life despite your anxiety issues? If so, you may have an anxiety problem, but it is not a clinically asserted disorder as such. If your anxiety does affect your life, seek medical help for a diagnosis.

What Is Agoraphobia?

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Agoraphobia is, by strict etymological definition, the fear of open spaces. However, it tends to be most commonly used as a clinical medical term for those who have a fear of being outside. These fear can become so crippling that the sufferer will avoid leaving their home altogether, which in turn has a huge impact on their quality of life and working prospects.

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder, a clinical grouping of mental health issues for which there is no definitive known cause. It is often partnered with another anxiety disorder, such as Social Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, though it can be a standalone issue. It has also been linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is important to know if the agoraphobia has an underlying cause or if it is a single issue, as if one is treated for the actual condition (OCD or SAD), then the agoraphobia itself usually fades.

In cases where agoraphobia is the only anxiety disorder present, sufferers will feel an overwhelming fear of being outside. This can sometimes just be in unfamiliar or crowded places, but some affected by agoraphobia will not wish to be out of their home at all. If an agoraphobia is required to leave their home, they will become increasingly panicked – often suffering anxiety attacks and physical fear symptoms, such as shaking or feeling sick.

The main treatment for agoraphobia is exposure therapy, whereby a person gradually increases the amount of time they spend outside. This is usually done with psychiatric assistance and observation. While agoraphobia can never be cured, it can be managed, and with effective treatment sufferers can go on to live normal, happy lives.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

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Social Anxiety Disorder (known as SAD, but not to be confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder) is an anxiety disorder that results in extreme shyness. It affects both men and women equally, and in its severe forms can result in an inability to work or live a normal life.

While many people are shy and find it difficult to be around new people, those with Social Anxiety Disorder suffer more than would be considered normal. They may go out of their way to avoid social situations, often to their detriment, and will experience physical symptoms of fear – such as shaking – in a social environment. They may also blush more frequently, and can sometimes be so nervous of being around people they are physically sick.

SAD is a relatively newly recognized anxiety disorder. Before its clinical recognition, sufferers may have simply been referred to as suffering from “nerves” or just being shy. The disorder is still in its early phases of clinical testing, but responses have been seen with usual anti-anxiety medication and behavioral therapy. While the illness can be overcome with correct psychiatric and psychological treatment, it can never be definitively cured. This, however, is not unique to SAD – no anxiety disorder can be cured, as such.

There is no known cause for SAD, though some sufferers do show lower than normal levels of serotonin (the so-called ‘feel good’ hormone) when tested. Due to its somewhat ambiguous nature, SAD can go undiagnosed for years – sometimes decades – before medical recognition. A primary reason for this is that those with SAD naturally avoid visiting a doctor, due to their condition – a catch 22 situation which will hopefully dissipate as awareness rises.

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness that falls into the category of anxiety disorders. While it comes in many different forms, the main symptoms of OCD are obsessive thoughts that cannot be controlled. These thoughts are usually on macabre, difficult subjects. One of the main focuses for many suffering from OCD is cleanliness, and a fear of contamination. Such a fear becomes all encompassing, to the point where the sufferer cannot live a normal life any more.

The second behavior that defines OCD is the “compulsive” part, known as compulsions. Compulsions are the result of the obsessive thoughts that are the primary definition of OCD. While a person can be Pure-O (only suffer thoughts, not compulsions), most sufferers do struggle with compulsions. A compulsion is usually a prevention of the obsessive thoughts, an act which is meant to reassure the sufferer (though this is rarely successful). For example, if someone has obsessive thoughts about contamination and germs, they will wash their hands or clean obsessively to alleviate their fears. However, the period of relief is usually shorts – sometimes mere moments – and then the compulsion to clean or wash their hands begins again. While the compulsions supply no relief whatsoever, sufferers cannot stop themselves from performing them.

OCD is listed as 8th on a World Health Organization list of illnesses that most effect quality of life, above cancer and other physical illnesses. However, only 30% of cases are correctly diagnosed by doctors in the first instance. With treatment and diagnosis OCD can be managed, but never cured.

Anxiety: The Unsustainable State

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Anxiety can be the bane of people’s existence, causing sleepless nights and panic attacks that are hugely detrimental to quality of life. While the symptoms of an anxiety problem or disorder can be managed with medication, most users find this in itself presents problems – namely lethargy, which can be difficult if one needs to work or drive a car. Instead, it is most effective for a sufferer of high anxiety to find other ways to cope with their condition.

Anxiety can be defined as a state of fear which is without justifiable reason. While many people feel anxious upon hearing bad or worrying news, this is a normal level of anxiety caused by a shock reaction of adrenaline in the body – and is usually harmless. Anxiety becomes a problem, known as a disorder, when these moments of high anxiety happen frequently or without just cause.

‘Just cause’ is difficult to define, as usually there will be some basis of fear which is creating the anxiety attack. However, in cases such as those suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this fear is not in scale with the problem actually presented to the individual – in a sense, an anxiety attack is an overreaction. On the other side, many people experience anxiety for no definable reason (inflated or not) whatsoever.

The most important thing to remember is that anxiety is not a sustainable state. Severe anxiety uses up much of the bodies resources, and within half an hour, even the most severe symptoms will begin to subside. Sometimes, with anxiety, all you can do is learn to ride it out.

What Is An Anxiety Attack?

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At some point in their lives, more than 60% of the population will experience an anxiety attack. Sometimes called panic attacks, such occurrences can be extremely alarming to those who are not aware of what the problem is. Most frequently anxiety attacks, to the unitiated, will appear almost heart attack like in their symptoms – needless to say, this is extremely distressing. Yet even if you do know what is happening to you, in the moment of the attack, you can forget and panic nevertheless. Basically, anxiety attacks are deeply unpleasant.

There is no known cause of anxiety attacks, though as the name suggests, they do relate to anxiety. If a person is distraught, upset or anxious, they are more likely to suffer such an attack. However, some sufferers – and it should be stressed only in a small amount of cases – can suffer from an attack even when they feel calm and relaxed.

With no absolute known physical cause of anxiety attacks, there is no known way of preventing with them. Primarily, sufferers are taught how to manage attacks rather than try and prevent them altogether. If the sufferer panics during an attack, it will worsen in severity, so behavior therapy can help people remain calm.

Different people experience different symptoms, but an anxiety attack can be characterized as a short, intense period of fear and anxiety. This often combines with sweating, shaking, shortness of breath and other fear-related symptoms. Left alone, and provided the sufferer attempts as best to remain calm, they should last no more than 10 minutes.

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