• What Are You Afraid of?

    What Are You Afraid of?

    “I’d really love to visit my mom for Mother’s Day, but I’d have to get on a plane.”


    Regina is terrified of flying, and the fear makes her feel weak. Phobias like the fear of flying, or aerophobia, are painful and scary because they provoke deep-seated reactions. Even though our logical mind tells us we shouldn’t be afraid, our survival (fight or flight) system activates, causing extreme disturbance or even terror.


    But why?


    Phobias — exaggerated or irrational fears in a reasonably safe situation — can form after a disturbing event that is directly connected to the feared activity or object. Or, like Regina’s fear of flying, they can form without any obvious connection at all.


    To avoid experiencing fear and discomfort, we avoid the object or situation that triggers us. That avoidance itself can be stressful, giving rise to embarrassment and guilt.


    If you feel shame about your fear and keep the phobia a secret, you should share it with a trusted person in your life. Feeling alone with the pain only amplifies the discomfort, and studies show that human connection reduces pain. Having that trusted person who knows and accepts your fears creates understanding. Should you have an anxiety episode that changes your behavior temporarily, such as refusing to get on a flight, they will understand.


    It takes a lot of energy to tamp down fear. Often, the more we push down an emotion, the harder the emotion pushes back. However, research tells us that distraction and mindfulness can be an effective solution when anxiety becomes overwhelming.


    For example: if you experience aerophobia, notice the sensation of where the soles of your feet meet the floor of the plane the next time you’re on a flight. Tune into that sensation. Add a little pressure occasionally and notice how the feeling changes. Or pay attention to the hair color of each of the other passengers. Think of a person who you love or admire, or even a fictional person from a movie or book who inspires you. Imagine their voice comforting you. With practice, these activities can distract you from your anxiety.


    Also, learn to be more kind to yourself. You’re only human, and self-kindness increases the strength needed to face your fears. Harsh self-judgment only leads to more negative feelings. Soften your internal judgment or notice some things you’re doing well.


    The good news about phobias is that there are effective treatments. If you still suffer from a phobia after trying some of these techniques, consider therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) are two methods that can yield good results.


    Don’t let a phobia restrict your life. If you’d like help conquering a fear, reach out to me through my website, CouplesTherapyOrlando.com, or by calling me at 407-579-2070.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.