Home page Psychology blog Bad Habits Altered Mental States Healthy and unhealthy fears: Getting rid of phobia

Healthy and unhealthy fears: Getting rid of phobia

09.04.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

Do you know the name of your “favorite” phobia? Every person is afraid of something, there is nothing to be ashamed of. However, if you constantly sense fear and anxiety, if it interferes with your life, communication and decision making, your fear has probably become pathologic. This fear is unhealthy, it doesn’t help us, but rather binds us. Let’s learn about the differences between rational and irrational fears, the causes of phobias and ways to control obsessive fears.

Contents:

  1. Causes of fear
  2. Healthy and unhealthy fear
  3. Types of phobias
  4. Panic attack
  5. Signs of fear
  6. Getting rid of fear and anxiety

Causes of fear

panic attack

Why do we experience fear? According to psychology, fear is a basic human emotion. It is a negative one, indeed, but it is completely normal and necessary for our survival. Fear is a response to change in the surrounding or within our bodies, it lets us notice the danger and escape it. Ancient people couldn’t have survived without it. From this perspective, fear helps and protects us.

However, sometimes fear becomes pathologic. Human instincts are quite primitive, they haven’t really changed since the times immemorial. We still fear anything new and unknown, even if we understand that there is nothing to be afraid of. When that happens, fear can inhibit our life, growth, social interactions, it can prevent us from changing our lives, achieving our goals and dreams. In this case it is absolutely necessary to treat these fears and phobias.

Many of such inexplicable fears stem from our childhood. For example, if a child had a particularly anxious mother who was always concerned about her child’s health, patronized and controlled them and forbade many things, a child can eventually develop a mindset that the world is dangerous and frightful. Or it is possible that a child had a frightening experience at an early age, when their parents failed to protect them. Such fear will be imprinted in their minds for life.

An obsessive fear or phobia can be a result of a life-threatening experience even in adulthood.

We will help you get rid of different phobias

BUY SERVICE WATCH VIDEO

Also, there are imagined fears that appear based on external information. For example, a person might develop fear of traffic accidents, if someone they know experienced one or they read a detailed description of an accident on mass media.

Regardless of the origin, fear is a learned mode of behavior that can be changed.

Fear can also have physiological causes. For example, during pregnancy women experience a lot of changes, which can lead to increased levels of anxiety, causing various fears. Mental disorders, like depression or anxiety disorder, can also foster the development of fear and phobias. However, in this case we should treat the cause, not the symptom.

Healthy and unhealthy fear

Fears can be divided in two groups based on their intensity: constructive and destructive fears.

Constructive fear

Real and rational sense of fear or uneasiness is a normal manifestation of our self-preservation instinct, which saves us from extinction. It is perfectly normal to be afraid of bee stings and wear protective gear when working in an apiary. It is perfectly normal to be afraid of a raging wind and stay inside during a hurricane. It is perfectly normal to worry about your children’s safety and remind them of being cautious. Such fears are constructive, they push us to action, they save our lives and protect our health.

Destructive fear or phobia

This is an irrational and uncontrollable fear typically in the face of imaginary danger. Some psychologists say that each person has a phobia. For example, some people have herpetophobia, fear of snakes. However, it is one thing to encounter a venomous snake, fear for your safety and avoid getting bitten. It is a totally another thing if you live in a big city yet always watch your step every time you go outside, afraid of seeing a snake. If that happens, your fear is likely pathologic. It causes constant anxiety, which starts to control your life and subdues your mind. If you constantly sense fear and anxiety, you must start treatment as soon as possible, because it significantly reduces your quality of life. The best way to treat phobias is to change your usual mode of behavior.

Types of phobias

There are thousands of existing phobias, each having its unique name. All these phobias can be put in one of the three groups proposed by a Russian psychologist Yuri Shcherbatykh. [3]

Natural fears

People feared natural phenomena since times immemorial, with many of those fears lingering by our side to this day. Even the most educated and rational people who are well aware of lightning protection systems can be still afraid of thunder, just because we instinctively think that lightning is dangerous. The same thing can be said about earthquakes and storms. Fear of dogs or insects also falls into this group.

Social fears

This group consists of fears related to our social standing, reputation, health state and safety. One example of it is the well-known fear of public speaking. Many people also fear death, poverty and disease. We are afraid of becoming a victim of a crime, act of terrorism or war, we worry about the safety of our loved ones. There are also less rational fears, for example, one might be afraid of close relationship, life changes or childbirth.

Inner fears

Remember how you were afraid of the monster living in your closet when you were a child? Only a blanket or a favorite toy could protect you from it. We have long since grown up, but some of us still have these irrational fears and still check their closet before going to bed. Such fears stem from our childhood. If the parents or psychologists never treated the child’s anxiety, never helped with overcoming it, this sense of fear lingers in the person’s mind for no obvious reason whatsoever. Inner fears can also come from stress. For example, if a person almost got hit by a car, they may develop a strong fear of cars afterwards.

Panic attack

Many people think that panic attacks come from fear, while in reality they are the result of  high anxiety levels, which may or may not be accompanied by fear.

Let’s talk about them for a moment. Panic attack is a state of inexplicable anxiety, which can be paired with fear. A person can reach this state anywhere and anytime, it is always sudden and uncontrollable. It can be accompanied by certain physical signs: fever, cold sweat, increased heart rate, trouble breathing, dizziness, nausea, loss of coordination. Each person may experience different symptoms.

Many people think that panic attacks come from fear, while in reality they are the result of high anxiety levels. Modern psychiatry treats fear as an emotion appearing as a response towards a threat and directed to a source of real or imaginary danger. Anxiety is, according to psychiatry, is a state which appears in the situations when the danger is unknown and comes from within.

Panic attack usually has no solid reason, it can appear any moment. While fear may be a symptom, such attack is often an undirected anxiety with no external cause.

Panic attacks themselves can be a symptom of mental disorders, like depression or anxiety disorder. If you often feel anxious or experience frequent panic attacks, only a psychiatrist or a therapist can administer treatment. It will be extremely hard to overcome this problem on your own.

Signs of fear

All systems of the body respond to fear, including nerve system, cardiovascular and even digestive system. Therefore, physical signs of fear vary from person to person. They may include the following:

  • secretion of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline;
  • excitation of sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to tachycardia, constipation, shallow breathing etc.;
  • increased pain threshold, reaction speed, muscular power and stamina;
  • increased heart hate and breathing;
  • increased sweating and blood pressure;
  • blood vessel constriction throughout the body;
  • deceleration or complete shutdown of digestion, abdominal pain;
  • dilated pupils;
  • increased blood sugar levels;
  • faster reflexes;
  • tunnel vision.

Such symptoms do not last long if a person experiences a normal and rational fear. Once the threat is gone or if you managed to overcome your fear, they disappear. However, such symptoms can also suddenly appear while experiencing chronic and destructive fears, regardless of the threat presence.

If you are overwhelmed by fear, and its symptoms impede your lifestyle, it’s time to treat this problem.

Getting rid of fear and anxiety

causes of fear

Here are several effective exercises and methods.

The worst-case scenario

Here is some advice from psychologists for overcoming phobias which from time to time remind of themselves: imagine the worst-case scenario and make it as grotesque as possible. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking but have to present your project at the meeting, ask yourself this question: what will happen if you fail? Let’s say your project will not be given green light. You will lose your bonus, your position or maybe even your job. The whole country will learn about your failure, and no company will hire you ever again. You will have to work as a janitor, live in poverty, start drinking or doing drugs, all because of that damned presentation! As you see, that is plain ridiculous. This is what you should aim for: imagine such grave consequences of encountering the object of your fear that it becomes ridiculous. Once that makes you laugh, the fear will disappear, and you will see there is nothing to be afraid of, you can overcome any trouble.

Breathing techniques

Breathing techniques can also help you fight your fears. Increased heart rate and shallow breathing are some of the common signs of fear. If you can take them under control, it will become easier to overcome fear.

There are many breathing techniques, for example, you can count to four: inhale—keep your breath—exhale—keep your breath, and you should count to four at each stage of this cycle. You can also follow a different pattern, increasing the duration of exhale: inhale for five seconds—keep your breath for five seconds—exhale for five seconds, inhale for five seconds—keep your breath for four seconds—exhale for six seconds. Continue doing so until you exhale for whole 10 seconds.

After that, you can stop counting the duration if inhaling and exhaling and just breath deeply, focusing on your pace. This will distract you from your fear and calm your nerve system.

Such exercise can help to battle fear at any time. For example, you can do it before going on stage to make a presentation. Or, you can do this after you have already experienced a scary situation, for example, encountering a stray dog. This breathing technique helps you get rid of the symptoms of your fear, calm down and overcome the situation that caused it.

7Spsy behavior modification method

If phobia became an essential part of your life, and the methods above do not help, you will have to work on your behavior patterns to fight your fear. This is what our  7Spsy behavior modification technique is about. With remote support of an experienced psychologist, in just 2-6 weeks you will be able to discover the mindset that feeds your phobias and change it to a healthier one.

We will help you get rid of different phobias

BUY SERVICE WATCH VIDEO

7Spsy method can even help you overcome your strongest fears: for example, you will learn how to stop fearing death. Soon you will start a whole new life, full of joy and serenity, where the only fear you get is when you are in real danger.

References:

  1. Nikolaj Kozlov, «Panicheskaya ataka u vas: chto delat’» https://www.psychologos.ru/articles/view/panicheskaya-ataka-u-vas-dvoe-zn–chto-delat
  2. Varvara Sidorova, «Strah pobuzhdaet nas dejstvovat’» http://www.psychologies.ru/standpoint/strah-pobujdaet-nas-deystvovat/
  3. Yurij Scherbatyh, «Psihologiya straha».