If you are one of the many people who have a phobia or irrational fear, you will know how debilitating it can be. What is a tolerable experience for some, can cause a sense of dread in others. However, with time and effort, you can learn to manage your fears and overcome your phobia.

When Does a Fear Become a Phobia?

Most people would confess to an irrational fear or two. Whether it be spiders, snakes, or heights, there is usually something that a person finds uncomfortable. Being frightened of some things is perfectly normal and is a natural response to a dangerous situation. However, a fear becomes a phobia when the feelings become overwhelming when, in reality, there is little danger.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. - H. P. Lovecraft

Most people with a phobia acknowledge that the fear is irrational. However, there is nothing they can do to control their thoughts. In extreme cases, this can lead people to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid their phobia. If you refuse to go on holiday from the fear of flying, or won’t travel over bridges from a fear of heights, you will know how this can play out.

Signs and Symptoms of a Phobia

To combat your phobia, it helps to identify the symptoms specific to the condition, and not just those of a general fear. A phobic reaction can consist of both physical and emotional symptoms, although people will usually only experience some of the signs.

Common physical symptoms include difficulty breathing, profuse sweating, and nausea. In some cases, people may also experience chest pain, trembling, and hot flashes. If you identify any of these symptoms, the chances are the reaction is a phobia, and you should look at methods to address the issue.

When you encounter your fear, your emotional reactions follow those you would expect with a ‘flight or fight’ response. However, the result is often much more intense and is usually overwhelming. These symptoms include a sense of panic, a feeling of detachment from reality, and an intense desire to escape the situation.

When Should You Seek Help?

Only you can decide if you need treatment. However, as a general rule, if your phobia has a significant impact on your life, then it may be wise to seek help. If you find yourself avoiding certain situations, or are unable to accomplish tasks because of your fear, it is another indication that help may be beneficial.

Helping Yourself

Whether you choose to go down the route of professional help or not is your choice. However, whichever way you go, there will be an enormous onus on you to try to help yourself. Self-help for phobias comes in three main categories:

Facing your fears – You will never overcome your fear if you don’t face it head-on. However, this does not mean jumping straight in at the deep end. This approach requires baby steps to get to an end goal somewhere down the line. For example, if you have a fear of spiders, you could perhaps start by looking at pictures of small spiders. You could then maybe move on to looking at a house spider from a distance, and slowly moving closer. Make a list of steps that feel comfortable to you and slowly work towards them.

Fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind. - Dale Carnegie

Practice calming exercises – The same advice applies to almost all mental health issues. Calming exercises such as meditation or mindfulness are of massive benefit in overcoming your problems. Mindfulness is the practice of being more aware of the present, and to generate the ability to bring yourself back to reality when you daydream. Meditation is when you set a period aside to examine your thoughts and garner more control over your mind. Both practices can have incredible benefits when combatting phobias, but they do take time and practice.

Challenge your thoughts – With practice, rationalizing your thought process can have a significant impact on how you perceive your fear. Start by challenging your everyday ideas, and not those associated with your phobia. Look for evidence that contradicts how you think and focus on the reality of the situation. When you observe yourself thinking clearly, reasoning through a phobia becomes almost second nature over time.

Anyone who has a phobia will know how debilitating it can be. However, there is hope, and successful treatment is available for almost all cases. Recovery begins by helping yourself and observing your thoughts, allowing you to take control of any situation that you find uncomfortable.

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