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Phobia self-help tip – Face your fears

Phobia self-help tip – Face your fears

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Continued from last week

Phobia self-help tip 1: Face your fears, one step at a time.

It’s only natural to want to avoid the thing or situation you fear. But when it comes to conquering phobias, facing your fears is the key. While avoidance may make you feel better in the short-term, it prevents you from learning that your phobia may not be as frightening or overwhelming as you think. You never get the chance to learn how to cope with your fears and experience control over the situation. As a result, the phobia becomes increasingly scarier and more daunting in your mind.

Exposure: Gradually and repeatedly facing your fears

The most effective way to overcome a phobia is by gradually and repeatedly exposing yourself to what you fear in a safe and controlled way. During this exposure process, you’ll learn to ride out the anxiety and fear until it inevitably passes.

Through repeated experiences facing your fear, you’ll begin to realize that the worst isn’t going to happen; you’re not going to die or “lose it.” With each exposure, you’ll feel more confident and in control. The phobia begins to lose its power.

Successfully facing your fears takes planning, practice, and patience; the following tips will help you get the most out of the exposure process.

Climbing up the “fear ladder”

If you’ve tried exposure in the past and it didn’t work, you may have started with something too scary or overwhelming. It’s important to begin with a situation that you can handle, and work your way up from there, building your confidence and coping skills as you move up the “fear ladder.”

Make a list. Make a list of the frightening situations related to your phobia. If you’re afraid of flying, your list (in addition to the obvious, such as taking a flight or getting through take-off) might include booking your ticket, packing your suitcase, driving to the airport, watching planes take off and land, going through security, boarding the plane, and listening to the flight attendant present the safety instructions.

Build your fear ladder. Arrange the items on your list from the least scary to the scariest. The first step should make you slightly anxious, but not so frightened that you’re too intimidated to try it. When creating the ladder, it can be helpful to think about your end goal (for example, to be able to be near dogs without panicking) and then break down the steps needed to reach that goal.

Work your way up the ladder. Start with the first step (in this example, looking at pictures of dogs) and don’t move on until you start to feel more comfortable doing it. If at all possible, stay in the situation long enough for your anxiety to decrease. The longer you expose yourself to the thing you’re afraid of, the more you’ll get used to it and the less anxious you’ll feel when you face it the next time. If the situation itself is short (for example, crossing a bridge), do it over and over again until your anxiety starts to lessen. Once you’ve done a step on several separate occasions without feeling too much anxiety, you can move on to the next step. If a step is too hard, break it down into smaller steps or go slower.

Practice: It’s important to practise regularly. The more often you practise, the quicker your progress will be. However, don’t rush. Go at a pace that you can manage without feeling overwhelmed. And remember: you will feel uncomfortable and anxious as you face your fears, but the feelings are only temporary. If you stick with it, the anxiety will fade. Your fears won’t hurt you.

Facing a fear of dogs: A sample fear ladder

» Step 1: Look at pictures of dogs.

» Step 2: Watch a video with dogs in it.

» Step 3: Look at a dog through a window.

» Step 4: Stand across the street from a dog on a leash.

» Step 5: Stand 10 feet away from a dog on a leash.

» Step 6: Stand five feet away from a dog on a leash.

» Step 7: Stand beside a dog on a leash.

» Step 8: Pet a small dog that someone is holding.

» Step 9: Pet a larger dog on a leash.

» Step 10: Pet a larger dog off leash.

If you start to feel overwhelmed… While it’s natural to feel scared or anxious as you face your phobia, if you start to feel overwhelmed, immediately back off.

To be continued on January 9

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