Sunday, December 4, 2011

Manage phobia by self-help

Phobia means morbid fear. It is usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. The sufferer tries to avoid the objects and situations causing fear. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities. (The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook 5th edition by Edmund J. Bourne. pp. 50–51)  Psychologists have listed a very long number of objects and situations usually causing phobia. 

There are six steps in self-help program 
Step I: Learning about anxiety and phobias
This is a very important step. It helps you to understand what is happening when you experience fear and tension.  All the worries and physical feelings you are experiencing are together called anxietyLearn the two facts about anxiety:
FACT 1: Anxiety is normal and adaptive because it helps us prepare for danger.  Therefore, the goal is to learn to manage anxiety, not eliminate it.
FACT 2: Anxiety can become a problem when our body tells us that there is danger even when there is no real danger. This is the problem in phobias.
It is also important to know that phobias are common. Having a phobia does not mean that you have become a mental patient. Phobias can be successfully managed by self-help. Many people learn to overcome their fears and to suppress their immediate fear response. For example, snake charmers learn to handle snakes suppressing their fears of snakes. Firefighters enter burning buildings even though their first instinct is likely telling to run the other way! A young person with blood, injection, needle, injury phobias learns to suppress fear responses and becomes nurse or doctor.
Step II: Find out what is the real fear factor
Find out what exactly about the object or situation is frightening. Is it the noise it makes? Or the way it moves? Is it the fear of being trapped? Is it the fear fall from the height or the dizziness you feel when climbing? If you don't find out the real focus of your fears, you could be wasting time trying to overcome the wrong problem, or be making the work more difficult than it needs to be. For example, if someone is afraid of getting blood drawn, he or she might actually have a blood phobia, not a needle phobia.  Thus, doing exposure with needles would probably not be very helpful. To improve, he or she would have to do exposure with blood. 
Step III: Realistic Thinking  
The anxious thoughts that people have due to their phobia are unrealistic. But, when they are very anxious, it is difficult for them to recognize this fact. For example, an individual who has experienced choking on a piece of bread may believe that anything with a bread-like consistency that they put in their mouths will make them choke again. Even though this is unrealistic, he or she will avoid many different foods.  Someone with an elevator phobia might avoid elevators because they believe that the cables will break and the elevator might crash.  The likelihood of this happening is very small, yet someone with an elevator phobia will walk up twenty flights of stairs to avoid taking the chance.  It is helpful to examine your thoughts, and decide whether the worries are unrealistic. In fact, one ‘learns’ the irrational fears. Therefore one can unlearn the irrational fears. 
Get the facts about feared objects and situations:
Sometimes, people have false beliefs about feared objects or situations, and it can be very helpful to get the facts. For example a person with Cynophobia (fear of dogs or rabies) may believe all dogs are carriers of rabies virus and they cause rabies in humans by their presence. Scientific information regarding rabies virus and its infection in humans would help the person a lot to get rid of his Cynophobia.
Step IV: Face it
Facing the objects and situations causing fears in a gradual and consistent manner is the most effective way to overcome fears and phobias, and is called “exposure”. This process involves gradually and repeatedly exposing yourself to the feared object or situation in a safe and controlled way. You learn to “ride out” the anxiety and distress until the anxiety passes.  This process requires courage and determination. Sometimes your anxiety is so high, that you cannot imagine resisting it. Anyone who decides to try exposing themselves to their fears needs to draw up a personal “training program”.  For example, if a person with Ailurophobia (fear of cats) wanted to be able to remain in a room with the pet without panicking, he/she may take the following steps:
Step 1:    Draw a cat on a piece of paper.
Step 2:    Read about cats.
Step 3:    Look at photos of cats.
Step 4:    Look at videos of cats.
Step 5:    Look at cats from a distance.
Step 6:    Look at them closer.
Step 7:    Have another person bring a cat into the room.
Step 8:   Try to touch the cat.
Through repeated experiences of facing your fears, you begin to realize that the situation or object while possibly unpleasant is not harmful. With each exposure, you will feel an increasing sense of control over your phobia. This sense of control over the situation is the most important benefit of exposure. As your anxiety gradually decreases, you no longer react with uncontrollable panic when confronted with it.
Keys to Managing Phobia:
1.      Do the exposure exercises as often as you can. You are trying to build up positive experiences to replace all the bad ones of being defeated by the phobia, and too long a gap between exercises makes this more difficult.
2.      Try to get the help of family and friends. If there is someone to work with who can talk to you calmly and positively while you are doing the steps. Make sure the helper you recruit is not over-sympathizing or endlessly asking how bad you are feeling! This will make it harder for you to focus on the steps and to stay positive.
Step V: Learning Relaxation
Learning relaxation techniques can help you to reduce feelings of anxiety that occur when you are about to face, or anticipate facing, a feared phobic situation.
Calm Breathing: This is a strategy that you can use to calm down quickly. When we are anxious, we tend to breathe fast and shallow. This can make us feel dizzy and lightheaded, which can make us even more anxious. Calm breathing involves taking slow, regular breaths through your nose. For more information, see How to do Calm Breathing.
Muscle Relaxation: Another helpful strategy is to learn to systematically relax all the parts of your body. This process involves tensing various muscles and then relaxing them. For more information, see how to do Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation. 
Step VI: Appreciate yourself your improvement
If you are noticing improvements, take some time to give yourself some credit: reward yourself! How do you maintain all the progress you’ve made? By Practice only! Don't be discouraged if you start repeating old behaviours. This can happen during stressful times or during transitions (for example, starting a new job or moving), and this is normal.  It just means that you need to restart practicing the steps learned earlier. Coping with anxiety is a lifelong process.

1 comment:

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