Phobias can seriously limit our lives, careers and relationships, by keeping us from trying, risking and growing. The anxiety we experience can lead to depression and other very serious health conditions. What's worse is how phobias make us feel about ourselves. This article will answer some Frequently Asked Questions about phobias and offer a self-help recovery method called the BAR Cycle.
What Is A Phobia? Phobia is a clinical word meaning fear. A more modern term for this would be “anxiety disorder.” Fear is a rational mechanism that helps us stay away from bee-hives, refrain from punching a police officer and other dangerous situations. Fear can also be irrational, occurring when no real danger exists. At normal levels, this would be called worry. Irrational fear becomes a phobia when the worry limits and advances us from some significant aspect of life. If you have a social phobia, for instance, you may not be able to attend the family Christmas gathering. If you have a performance anxiety, you may not be able to advance in your career if it requires public speaking or test taking. These fears can be about anything … germs, water, closed spaces, love, heights, etc. If left untreated, they can become so serious as to make us give up on life.
How Did I Get A Phobia? The causes of phobias are not known. The most popular theories suggest a tragic event early in life, but many people have anxiety disputes with no known events. Many phobias can be traced through generations, but no one knows if it's genetic or learned behavior. Anxiety and depression medicines help some with the symptoms but do not “cure” the condition, suggesting there is no real physical cause. In many cases, regular exercise can do as well as any drugs. In other cases, though, a simple diet change to more healthy eating habits will alleviate the feelings of fear and enable a transition to normal life. Like I said … no one really knows how we get phobias, but there are some very effective ways to treat them.
Why Can not I Just Stop Being Afraid? However we got the anxiety disorder, we can not just decide we will not be afraid any more. If we're suffering a phobia, the danger seems so real, it's as if we're about to lose our lives … even if it's a fear of butterflies. The more we back down in the face of those fears, the stronger the fears become in our minds. It's like we're building a paper wall around ourselves. At first, it would be easy to brake through the wall, but every time be back down, we add another layer of paper to the wall. After a few years, the wall has become a foot thick, seemingly impossible to break through. With severe phobias like this, we all need help to break through to recovery.
What Can I Do For Recovery? Without your phobia is fairly mild and manageable, you'll need professional therapy, at least initially. Usually, a good therapist will look for simple, physical causes first, like diet or alcohol use, etc. If your condition is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals (illness), certain medications will be prescribed. Most serious anxiety disorders also require psychological counseling to discover possible causes and to coach on how to deal with emotions. Typically, a combination of mild medicine and counseling are effective at making a phobia manageable … even lead to recovery.
Whatever treatment we receive, recovery requires we ever face down our fears and beginning singing down that paper wall. Since fear is a false belief, the BAR Cycle can be a very effective tool for phobia management and temporary recovery. Working on the Belief end of the Cycle, we develop a plan to safely and gradually face down our fears. Instead of trying to break through our paper wall all at once, the BAR Cycle helps us take it down one layer at a time.
If you had Agoraphobia, for example, and feared open spaces so much, you kept yourself locked up in your home with all the blinds closed. You would gradually build, from one open blind, to two, to an open window, a door, one foot outside, all the way out, ever to traveling anywhere you wish. Following the Cycle, every time you take even a tiny Action to face down your fears, you create a positive emotional Result, that builds belief in yourself and weakens the fear. Instead of your paper wall getting thicker every day, you're working your way through it one thin page at a time … it's getting weaker.
This does not mean you'll be free of fear … no one is. What it means is, ever, your irrational, crippling phobia can become a normal fear or worry that you can manage like everyone else. Serious, crippling anxiety disorders like the one above usually require professional therapy and medication before we can even begin to tackle the wall of fear. Once that therapy begins, though, if we're to recover, part of the process will be facing and conquering our fears. Mild to moderate phobias can often be overcome by using the BAR Cycle on a self-help basis.
We did not get a phobia overnight. Even if genetics or physical conditions pre-disposed us toward anxiety, it typically grows in strength through our repeatedly backing down in the face of it. Now, whatever treatment we require, recovery will not come until we've successfully faced down these fears and put them in their proper place in our lives, protecting us from real dangers rather than the imaginary ones. That's where the BAR Cycle can aid in phobia recovery and lead to a normal, satisfying life.