A phobia is an irrational fear, an aversion, a hatred, or acute anxiety over something, or someone, an activity or a situation; which is a trigger that releases fear in that person. These fearful feelings can be generated by anything that normally does not pose a threat to life, they are usually a response to a mental image of a previous experience encountered, where an incident generated some anxiety and the mind was unable to rationalize the situation.
At what point does a reasonable amount of anxiety and avoidance become a phobia? Increasing anxiety over apparently safe items indicates a phobia. If the level of anxiety is high and bears no relevance to the degree of danger involved, it is a phobia.
Many people feel slightly apprehensive when boarding an aircraft, or facing a new situation, or meeting new people, but not to the point of being panic stricken, that avoidance is the only relief.
The greater the anxiety, the stronger the desire is to avoid what is feared, and the greater the avoidance the more disruption is caused to the person’s life.
False Beliefs About Phobias
A phobia is not a serious mental illness, nor is it connected to any known physical illness. However painful and distressing your symptoms are, no matter how irrational and inexplicable your phobia and its effects may seem, no matter how dramatic and complete your loss of mental and/or physical control, these are not the first signs of insanity.
The symptoms do not indicate a ‘nervous breakdown’. The modern view of phobias, which is accepted by the majority of specialists, is supported by a wealth of clinical and research evidence, Phobias are a result of an unfortunate but entirely normal process of learning.
A Rare and Unique Illness
Many phobics believe they are suffering from a rare illness, that is little known and nothing can be done, and this belief is endorsed when other people are seen to cope effortlessly with the same things that arouse a phobics’ fears. In fact phobias are very common, studies suggest one person in ten experiences such difficulties at least once in their life. Phobias have been studied for well over a hundred years and a great deal is known about them, effective treatments have been developed, mostly from the field of behavioural psychology.
A Phobic is Weak-willed Or Stupid
Sufferers often consider themselves ‘stupid’ or ‘weak’ because they are constantly told that by others. Non-sufferers can be irritable and impatient about the inability of a phobic to do something that most people tackle with ease. Having a phobia has nothing to do with a fault in your character, a weakness or a flaw in your personality. Some of the bravest people are those fighting to free themselves of their fears. People who tell you to ‘pull yourself together’, ‘stop being foolish’ speak with the voice of ignorance about fears and simply do not understand. The distress produced by a phobia can only be understood and appreciated by one who has experienced a phobia.
Self control and positive thinking
Telling yourself – or being told to exercise ‘self control’ is not the right kind of positive thinking and will not get rid of the fear. Saying ‘I am not going to feel afraid’ in a situation, without some preparation, is unrealistic positive thinking that will hinder your progress. Positive thinking has to be used in a constructive way and by using simple clear statements that :-
- Relate directly to any difficulties you anticipate.
- Are realistic about the likely outcome
- Must contain practical advice about how the situation can be tackled successfully.
I know the situation will be difficult but I will be able to deal with it by concentrating on my breathing.
The situation may make me feel tense but I shall be able to cope if I practice relaxing my muscles.
Saying such positive statements and adding your own coping strategy will help :-
- I may find this difficult but I shall cope more easily if I remember to….
- The situation may be tricky to handle at times, but it will prove less difficult if I….
- I might find it slightly harder to cope, but I will keep my anxiety under control, if I study the surroundings in detail.
- Carrying out this task might make me nervous, but I will manage if I….