ad collaborative post // Anxiety disorders are relatively common, with 19.1% of American adults diagnosed in the past year. However, there is still a lot to learn about phobias, a type of anxiety disorder that leads to extreme, irrational fears.
Approximately 19 million Americans have phobias, typically developing between 15 and 20 years of age. In nearly 10-30% of cases, phobias could last more than a decade and are often a precursor to anxiety, mood disorders, or substance abuse.
Specific phobias are usually a fear of certain objects or circumstances, including different types of animals, social situations, flying, insects, tunnels, heights, and water.
Having a phobia can negatively impact your quality of life and well-being, which is why it is critical to combat your fear. But where do you start? Here are five mental wellness tips to help you overcome your phobia.
1. Work Your Way Up the Fear Ladder
Research shows that desensitization – or exposure therapy – effectively helps people overcome phobia and general anxiety. One way to think of desensitization is by visualizing a “fear ladder,” in which you are exposed to your phobia a little bit at a time in a safe, controlled environment.
Recently, a study analyzed individuals who were afraid of driving. Researchers used virtual reality exposure therapy to understand participants’ emotional, behavioral, and physical responses towards being behind the wheel. The results were mostly positive, with everyone mastering new driving skills. There was also a significant decrease in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Desensitization can be used in other ways, too. For example, if you’re afraid of flying, looking at photos of airplanes can be the first step you take to desensitize yourself before a trip.
2. Prepare Yourself
Another way to overcome a phobia is by ensuring you’re prepared ahead of time. Take a moment to research your fear and the sort of experience you may have going in.
Let’s say you’re someone who wants to overcome dentophobia, a fear of going to the dentist. If you’re dreading your upcoming dental exam or procedure, watching videos of cleanings online or reading about the different steps may give you a greater sense of control and make you feel more comfortable.
When facing your fears, preparation can remove the uncertainty surrounding what could happen.
3. Create a Buddy System
Facing your phobia head-on can be anxiety-inducing for many people. That’s why partnering up with someone or multiple people who can support you is essential.
Research has found that social support delivers a buffer for those dealing with high stress and the psychological threat response. The study also demonstrated that individuals with high-quality friendships and familial relationships have more satisfactory physical and mental health overall.
If you’re worried about overcoming your phobias alone, asking a close friend for encouragement can help you achieve your goal. Likewise, if your friend or a family member has a similar phobia, tackling it together can be advantageous for both of you.
4. Try Relaxation Techniques
If you’ve worked your way up to facing your fear, it’s possible you may experience a sudden panic attack. Common symptoms of a panic attack include:
- A racing heart
- Body shakes
- Shortness of breath
- Racing thoughts
- Feelings of dread
- Feeling like you’re out of control
If you’ve ever felt these symptoms before, there are numerous mindfulness and relaxation techniques that can help quiet your mind when the panic sets in.
For example, meditation can slow down some of those racing thoughts, while finding a focal point can center your vision and calm your response to a situation. Taking a walk in nature or practicing deep breathing may also help you relax.
5. Speak to Someone You Trust
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling, is run by a mental health professional and focuses on evaluating, diagnosing, and treating certain emotions and behaviors. Usually, it’s one of the first recommended treatments for dealing with phobias.
Trained therapists can aid individuals in overcoming their fears with or without the use of prescriptions. People who have severe phobias that induce anxiety or depressive episodes may be offered an anti-anxiety medicine or antidepressant, although there isn’t currently a medication that explicitly treats phobias.
If therapy isn’t an option for you, sometimes just discussing your phobia with a friend, relative, mentor, or co-worker is beneficial.
Overcome Your Phobia With Confidence
Living with a phobia can be crippling for a lot of people. By trying out some of these mental wellness techniques, you can begin overcoming your greatest fears and improving your quality of life