FEAR OR PHOBIA: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? Jane Murphy-Thresh
Most of us have a ‘fear’ of something. It may be a fear of flying, spiders, birds, or indeed any other specific item, object or situation. Most of us have heard of claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), and arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and there are many, many more. There are also social phobias. The sufferers of these hate being exposed to the scrutiny of others. Such situations can include eating in public, for example, or speaking in public or being sick in public. People might think this is a bit odd, or even daft (which does not help the sufferer to feel any better about it!).
One person’s fears may seem quite strange to another, but these fears should never be thought of as ridiculous. While your conscious or rational mind knows the difference between the real danger of, say, a tiger compared with that of a mouse, the subconscious or emotional mind does not necessarily have the ability to distinguish between the two. The same ‘fight or flight’ responses can be activated to both animals. When that happens the brain triggers production of adrenaline through the body, increases heart rate, quickens breathing rate and heightens the senses. These responses are just what you need to either fight the danger or run away from it. It all happens so fast (in fact, twice as fast as your sensible, rational mind) that you are doing it literally before you know it!
The purpose of the emotional mind is to protect you, to warn you of danger, and therefore it looks for the negatives in life. It stores information and remembers how you felt before and how you dealt with it. So, while someone may know that a piece of cotton wool cannot really hurt them, their emotional mind remembers how terrified they felt when they had an injection and the nurse wiped their arm with a piece of cotton wool. Often the cause of a phobia is a series of events that reinforce the original bad experience over a long period. These events will repeat or appear to repeat the original cause and will confirm to the emotional mind that it is on the right track.
Of course, not all fears are harmful. Some can be very useful. A child needs to be taught to be cautious of the dangers of crossing a busy road or going near a fire, for example. Fear is an instinctive reaction, which we cannot afford to ignore. Our very survival depends on it. However, if that fear shows up out of context and starts to make life difficult, it can prevent the normal functioning of your everyday life. This inappropriate fear is a phobia.
Many people who realise they have a phobia can react by avoiding being in that specific situation. For example, someone who has a fear of flying can simply avoid getting into an aeroplane. However, many experience the daily dread of having no choice but to face the feared item or situation, and this in itself can cause severe anxiety. They feel out of control, and this creates real stress. They may experience nausea, headaches, stuttering and shaking, among many other physical symptoms.
Phobias may come about in various different ways. In fact, a phobia may be triggered by severe stress. In such a case, it is not the phobia that needs to be addressed, but rather the cause of the stress itself. Sometimes an existing phobia can be exaggerated by stress. Did you know that it is also possible to be taught a phobia or for a phobia to be transmitted to another person? For example, a child may witness a parent’s severe reaction to a thunderstorm and may thereafter associate a thunderstorm with feelings of panic and distress. It also possible to pick up phobic reactions from the mass media, or even from the way you might have been rewarded or punished.
So, do you have a useful fear of something or do you have a very unhelpful phobia, which is seriously affecting your life? If you have the latter, have you decided that enough is enough? Is it making you angry? If it is, this is merely a sign that you are ready to make a change. With expert help you can use various techniques to CONFRONT, OWN and CONTROL these fears at last.