Conquering the Unseen: Understanding Fears and Phobias
Fear is a fundamental and instinctual emotion that evolved to protect you from threats in your environment. Not only do we no longer need the fear response in the same way as we did 50,000 years ago and beyond, we use our imagination to create scenarios and react as if they are real.
I recently finished “The Girl Who Climbed Everest” by Bonita Norris. Amongst countless stories of grit, resilience, commitment, and determination, there is a story of the moment she helped another climber narrowly avoid death. She reports:
“I ran through what had happened over and over in my mind. I had felt no fear at all. I had been paralysed by fear in so many situations and yet none of them had been as serious as that. It made me realise that sometimes the thing that allowed us to be most scared was the time we had to think…It made me think that if I have the time to feel scared about something, then it probably isn’t as dangerous as I’m making it out to be”.
As humans, we have a great survival instinct that works well when we need it. In those moments, we don’t need the thinking brain. The unconscious kicks in and mostly keeps us alive. The anxious thinking that the more recently formed human brain thinks necessary is more of a hindrance than help.
When fear takes on a more intense and irrational form, it leads to a phobia. Phobias are persistent and overwhelming fears of specific objects, situations, or activities, often resulting in avoidance behaviours that significantly impact your quality of life. In this article, I explore the complex world of fears and phobias, their origins, manifestations, and offer strategies for conquering these unseen challenges.
The Nature of Fears and Phobias:
Fears and phobias manifest in various forms, and range from common fears like spiders or heights to more specific and less understood phobias, such as trypophobia (fear of clustered holes) or nomophobia (fear of being without a mobile phone). We can trace the origins of these fears back to genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.
Research suggests there may be a genetic component to the development of phobias. People with a family history of anxiety disorders or phobias are more susceptible to developing similar fears themselves. However, genetics alone cannot account for the entire spectrum of fears and phobias, as environmental factors play a crucial role in their development.
Traumatic experiences, especially during childhood, can leave a lasting impact on the psyche. A fear or phobia may develop as a coping mechanism to avoid reliving a traumatic event. The brain’s only job is to keep you alive. If it gets the memo that something threatened your life at any point, it is likely to store that thing as a future threat to your life. For example, a person who experienced a dog bite as a child may develop a phobia of dogs.
Observational learning also plays a role in the acquisition of fears and phobias. If a child witnesses a parent expressing intense fear or avoidance of a particular object or situation, the brain learns it is a threat to their life, leaving them more susceptible to similar reactions.
The Spectrum of Anxiety Disorders:
Fears and phobias are part of a broader spectrum of anxiety disorders, ranging from mild anxiety to debilitating phobias. Understanding this spectrum is crucial in understanding the severity of your fear, so you can find the appropriate intervention.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
People with GAD experience excessive worry and anxiety about various aspects of their life, often without a specific trigger. The lack of specific trigger is why this problem is generalised. This chronic condition can lead to physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.
Social Anxiety Disorder:
If you have an intense fear of being judged or scrutinised in social situations, you’re experiencing social anxiety. This fear can lead to avoidance of social interactions, hindering personal and professional relationships.
Specific phobias are an intense fear of a particular object, situation, or activity. Common examples include heights, flying, spiders, and enclosed spaces. The fear is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the stimulus.
Conquering Fears and Phobias:
As Bonita Norris writes in her book, it’s often the time we give ourselves to think that causes the anxious feelings. When a real threat is present, there isn’t time to ruminate. By providing yourself time to dwell on all the thoughts, you nurture the fear or phobia. The biggest problem with most fears and phobias is that you know they are irrational and unnecessary. Stopping thinking about it is far easier said than done.
Hypnotherapy sessions are a useful way to use the depth of focus that comes with the hypnotic state and your imagination to think differently about your phobic trigger. If there is a historical reason for your fear, your hypnotherapist will help you work through the experiences. Together, you’ll use hypnotic tools to influence your experience so it’s less traumatic, release any emotion stuck there from the experience, and realign your mind and body.
Mindfulness is one of the best tools for managing anxiety. When you learn how to adapt a mindful mindset, you’ll know how to stay grounded when confronted with your fears. Mindfulness is a lifestyle that you achieve through regular practices of techniques, such as meditation. Mindfulness means to live in the moment without judgment. Therefore, when confronted with a fear, your thoughts stay in the present – so in every second you can assess whether you are OK and safe right now, without giving your thoughts the opportunity to wander into the what ifs.
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