Phobias: What Are You Afraid Of?

Is it an irrational fear, or a healthy fear? When confronted by real danger, you know what it feels like to be afraid. Your heart begins to pound, palms get sweaty, your breath quickens and your brain's natural "fight-or-flight" response kicks into high gear. In this case, fear is your ally and your reaction is healthy and normal. But what happens when the brain sounds the alarm when there's no apparent reason to be afraid, or long after the fact? That's the basic difference between real fears and irrational fears (phobias).

As irrational as phobias are, they're often paralyzing aversions to common events or situations for millions of people. Those who have them are often reluctant to share their hidden secrets with anyone, including friends and family members. It's often easier to suffer in silence than openly admit to anyone that you're feeling vulnerable and out of control, especially for those who have a certain image to uphold.

There are literally hundreds of identified and labeled phobias, all of which can be listed under one (or more) of three major categories: social phobias, simple phobias, and agoraphobia - all of which share a few common traits. All represent a chronic, unrealistic, and excessive fear. All lead to dread and avoidance. And all may, at times, produce symptoms of panic and anxiety such as hyperventilation, dizziness, and heart palpitations. Left untreated, phobias can have serious consequences which affect your overall health and lifestyle.

Whether you're afraid of spiders and snakes, or heights, or one of the lesser-known phobias such as chionophobia (fear of snow), there are therapies that will help you comfortably confront your fears and move past your phobias.

Expose yourself -
This technique is designed to raise your comfort level in stages. The first step involves looking at a photograph of a snake (as an example). Next, you would then look at a live snake from a distance, gradually shortening the distance until you reached the point where you would actually touch a nonpoisonous snake. According to experts, the key to this technique is that you must be relaxed and cannot be distracted, so that you can fully experience each step of the transition without having your mind somewhere else.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) -
This therapy involves use of eye movement or other rhythmic stimulation, like audio tones played in a headset (the sound moves back and forth from one ear to the other). This technique is often used in conjunction with other therapies such as cognitive and behavioral therapies (which confront phobias head-on), for a much quicker response time. EMDR is also effective in treating other problems such as trauma, depression and addictions.

Suggested Therapies for Phobias

Relaxation and Meditation -
When you're able to fully relax, either by entering a meditative state or using deep breathing techniques, the body does the opposite of panicking.

Qigong -
Qigong has been shown to be effective in helping resolve anxiety, depression, insomnia, asthma, arthritis, as well as helping cancer, coronary heart disease, and cases of HIV / AIDS. According to experts, many people experience dramatic improvement after they have been instructed in basic qigong exercises. Daily practice lowers blood pressure, pulse rates, metabolic rates, and oxygen demand.

Yoga -
The health benefits of yoga are limited only by one's commitment to its practice. There are many well-designed studies of meditation and yoga, demonstrating their effectiveness in stress and anxiety alleviation, blood pressure and heart rate reductions, and overall health, vitality, and peace of mind.

Cognitive Therapy -
This therapy works directly on your irrational thoughts so that you can reprogram yourself to think rationally. As an example, irrational thoughts such as "I can't drive across that bridge or I may panic and go over the side" are countered with reasoned responses such as "If I start to feel anxious I can calm myself down by breathing deeply and I'll cross the bridge with everyone else." The key to this therapy is to practice, drill and rehearse your responses before you need to use them; when you're calm and relaxed.

Regardless of which therapy you decide to try, the important thing is that you not give up. Once you know what your phobia is, and of more import, how your body reacts to your fear, you can then begin to explore your options. Phobias are treatable and curable.

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