Is it possible to manage and overcome the irrational and uncontrollable fear of certain events and situations? The good news is that the answer is yes, even if the path can be complicated. Here’s what you need to know about phobias and the expert’s advice for dealing with them and winning them.
Phobia, fear and anxiety are terms that are increasingly seen as synonyms. In reality they express very different concepts, both on a scientific and on a behavioral level.
We at Junglam have tried to clarify the subject and have turned to an expert to ask him how to deal with phobias.
What is fear
Fear can be defined as a mental state generated by the perception of a threat to a particular danger. In this case, the danger is well determined by nature and extent and limited in time and space.
Being afraid is completely normal. A great mountaineer said: fear is the basis of safety and therefore of survival. The fear of emptiness that is experienced in the mountains is essential to increase attention and reduce risks.
Fear occurs very quickly and is associated with intense physical activation. Faced with a threatening stimulus, the organism automatically prepares itself for one of the following response behaviors:
- attack, approach, exploration
- escape, removal, closure
- freezing, immobilization in the face of intolerability of the threat
The main symptoms of fear are the acceleration of the heartbeat, muscle tension, alteration of breathing, cenesthetic sensations (numbness, flushing, chills, sweating, narrowing of the visual head, etc.), nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and the reduction or absence of mental lucidity.
Fear is an emotion and as such is not controllable (it would be like asking your heart to beat more slowly). As a result, one can only intervene on ways to get around the emotion of fear and reduce the perception of threat through cognitive or behavioral actions.
Difference between fear and phobia
The phobia is a more pronounced fear that is experienced in the face of situations that do not represent an immediate and real threat to the individual and that can degenerate into a generalized anxiety.
If the fear of snakes, insects, dogs can be traced back to the perception of a realistic threat to individual integrity, blood phobia, open or closed spaces, contact with others represents an unjustified fear of situations not directly related to personal or species security.
Anxiety and fear are physiological responses and are normal in all individuals. Instead, phobias are a pathological phenomenon that must be faced with the support of professionals such as doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists.
The most common phobias
Phobias are many and concern different aspects of everyday life. Among the most widespread are the phobia for dogs and the phobia for cats (which can be placed in the macro category of phobia for pets), the phobia for bees (which is part of the phobia for insects), the phobia for snakes (attributable to that for crawling animals), the phobia of flying and the phobia of driving (which are part of the phobia due to the absence of control) and the phobia for blood.
How to fight phobias
Once the nature of the phobias has been established, is it possible to manage and overcome them? We at Junglam asked Federico Petrozzi, psychologist and psychotherapist, as well as senior executive coach of Marina Osnaghi’s Professional Coaching School.
What can you really do to deal with a fear?
Generally speaking, there are some solutions that can help you deal with the “lighter” fears. Obviously, when these fears turn into phobias, generalized anxiety attacks or panic attacks, the only alternative is to go to professionals like psychiatrists or psychologists-psychotherapists who are experts in treating phobias.
What can be done to manage some of the main fears?
The main cognitive-behavioral techniques used to treat specific phobias are:
- the graded average exposure – through the computer or a tablet (better a big screen) you can make an exposure through media (mediated), starting independently or through the support of a coach a search for the object of fear. The gradual exposure to the sight of the object of fear with a brief and then more prolonged start can desensitize the person to the point of reducing the fear in the moment of the live encounter. Graded mediated exposure is useful for dealing with the phobia of bees and snakes, but also an important fear such as flying. Currently, many airlines offer exposure and desensitization routes through cabin simulators and digital simulators;
- imaginative exposure – a coach or specialist (psychologist or psychotherapist) accompanies the person to imagine himself in a fearful situation. For example, in the case of a phobia for snakes, it may propose to display a specimen that crawls on the floor of the room, its size, the speed with which it moves and progressively lead the patient to visualize the animal that leaves the room and finally ask how it feels when exposure to the image has ceased;
- muscle relaxation – learning different ways of muscle relaxation (usually combined with breathing) is a prerequisite to exposure to the object of fear. Muscle relaxation balances the anxiety-induced charge generated by the object of fear and can inhibit it;
- deep abdominal breathing – deep abdominal breathing is a conscious breathing, in which the exhalation is the active part and the passive inspiration. This procedure consistently reduces the possibility of hyperventilation, stabilizes the arterial pressure, restores the levels of cerebral oxygen to the starting conditions and effectively reduces all the somatic expressions related to fear. Deep abdominal breathing requires some experience, which can be done through the support of a coach or specialist (for example, a yoga teacher).
How to deal with phobias when they occur
Phobias can manifest themselves suddenly and catch completely unprepared. In this case, what can be done? The Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Senior Executive Coach Federico Petrozzi answered our question, giving us some useful practical advice.
What can you really do with effective exposure to a fear?
If you suddenly find yourself facing a fear that is not pre-existing (for example, a sudden phobia for flight), you can behave like this:
- take off your shoes and place the soles of your feet firmly on the ground with your fingers well apart
- place your hands open on your thighs (do not grab and tighten the arm of the chair)
- close your eyes and focus attention on the perception of contact with the ground (feet) and thighs (hands)
- breathe through your nose, inhaling deeply and slowly (count to 6) and exhaling gently and slowly (count to 6), then keep the air out (count to 10). If you feel hungry, do not take a deep breath, but inhale deeply and slowly (count to 7), exhale deeply and slowly (count to 6) and keep the air out (count to 10).
Proceed in this way until the feeling of fear has ceased.
Together with deep abdominal breathing, to overcome occasional fears, you can practice other tricks:
- visualize yourself in a pleasant situation (which must be prepared first). For example, if the thing that relaxes you most is the mountain, visualize yourself in the mountains, while walking in the woods or walking along a path;
- if you are alone, to reinforce the visualization you can verbalize what you observe (for example, you can repeat: “I see the trees, I see the fir tree under which I stopped, I see the shelter where I ate the apple pie, etc.) “);
- help yourself with technology, observing pleasant images or videos that recall pleasant events or engaging in a game that requires great concentration.
How to overcome phobias
Can phobias be won? According to Federico Petrozzi, reacting is not only possible, but also necessary. The psychologist and psychotherapist answered our question with some really valuable suggestions.
What can you really do about it after being exposed to a fear?
The most important thing is to move from fear to action. In fact, fear is an inhibitory reaction of the most advanced brain functions, an emotion that brings us back to primordial conditions, in which survival depended on the speed at which one could escape or from the ferocity of the attack that could be launched. Therefore, extremely instinctual and not controllable. Consequently, the point is to consciously shift from fear to action, or take the decision.
Often, one prefers to remain entangled in fear and remain in the comfort zone (“I’m afraid, doing nothing is better than anything else …”) rather than saying, “I’m afraid, but fear is an emotion like any other and I can decide to replace this emotion with another more pleasant emotion ”. Technically, this process at the brain level is called pruning. We can overwrite a certain habit (after a while, fear becomes a habit) with another habit (conscious breathing, viewing pleasant situations, focusing on activities other than standing still and suffering fear).
And if you can’t make the decision?
A solution may be to start “antagonistic activities”, when one is in the grip of fear. To succeed, it is necessary to take a deep breath and start counting from 5 to 0, where 5 represents the current state and or the moment when the antagonist action is actually started (deep breathing, visualization of pleasant images, etc.). .
If you do this with great attention and concentration, as the zero approaches the brain acts as a sort of reset and you feel ready to start the new action that will make us feel better.