Wednesday, October 2, 2013

# Fears and Phobias

Fear is an instinctive reaction to potential danger.It saves us from mishaps by stimulating us to either fight the danger or flee from there.When a child is born it has only two fears-that of loud noises and another of being dropped.But as we grow up we face precarious situations or painful experiences which instill in our minds,fears related to those episodes.These are normal,rational fears which are helpful to some extent and can easily be sidelined or overcome.
Origin of Fears
Faulty upbringing gives a very bad start to a child.If it is subjected to abuse,cruelty,hostility or neglect, it could grow up to be timid and fearful of the elements associated with it's negative experiences.Like,if it was confined to closed rooms as a form of punishment,it could develop a fear of enclosed spaces.

Some fears are learned by copying others.Children are quick to catch on to what their elders do.For example if a child sees his parent or any close relative afraid of road traffic,he too may imbibe this fear & dread crossing roads or driving a vehicle as he grows up.

Social conditioning is responsible for the fears which we as a group entertain--like the breaking of glass,spilling salt or a black cat crossing out path as being unlucky.A chance misfortune following such an incident accentuates that fear.

Low self esteem too,exposes a person to many fears.Any activity which he thinks is dangerous for him,beyond his capability,or which will project him in poor light;becomes an object to be feared-like public speaking for example,or participating in competitions,or confronting anyone.

Sometimes a trauma or one negative experience is enough to instill a lifelong fear of that particular stimulus-like a dog bite,an accident or a rough flight.

If someone has been through a lot of stress,life-threatening situations or painful events in a short span of time;he could lose control of his emotions--becoming weak & vulnerable.Clinging to rational as well as irrational fears is a possible outcome.He may believe that if he avoids certain objects or situations he will be safe.
Take the case of Mohan.He had a terrible accident with a truck on a highway on a Saturday.It resulted in him fearing highways,trucks,Saturdays and even the purpose for which he was going on that on road---labeling it as ominous.

Phobias
Most people have an odd fear tucked into their minds which is rational and easy to ignore.But Phobias belong to a different category.They are illogical,intense and persistent.They generate severe anxiety and interfere with normal functioning of life.Many people who suffer from them are forced to make drastic changes in their lives because they cannot tolerate the anxiety generated by these fears.They realize that their fears are irrational and disproportionate to the stimulus but are unable to overcome them.

They avoid the phobic object,this gives relief,and any hint of that same stimulus in future is followed by abrupt withdrawal.Thus this behavior is reinforced.What's more,the fear generalizes to encompass many other stimuli. As they go on capitulating to these fears they become more & more entrenched.This sequence of exposure>fear>withdrawal establishes a kind of circuit in the brain and the whole process becomes automatic.That is why it becomes difficult to relinquish phobias as time goes by.

The diagnostic criteria for Phobia are available at this site.

Now for the good news.Anyone who wants to get rid of his phobias can take heart from the fact that since this is learned behavior,it can easily (well not so easily) be unlearned.

Breaking Free

*Understand your Phobias
First and foremost,phobias are common and treatable.Many people suffer from them but they don't let it show.Think back to the origin of your fear and why you succumbed to it. Aren't you maximizing the danger and minimizing your powers?

*Believe in Yourself
Being afraid of something does not make you weak or crazy.You can get rid of it through self help-which should be your first option.The only condition is you will have to be brave and committed.

*Gradual Safe Exposure
Facing a phobia is not easy,it has to be done gradually.Break it into smaller parts and tackle the easiest,the least scary segment first.

Going back to Mohan,he could start with the Saturdays.He should recall how many Saturdays he has lived safely through.Then recollect the good things which happened on a Saturday.If he has been confining himself to his room on this day then he could venture out and attempt ordinary tasks initially to convince himself that Saturdays are not so ominous after all. 

The highway next.He can sit at a safe place beside a highway and watch trucks whizzing past,without crashing into anyone.By and by,he will feel more comfortable watching them going on the road.
When he is convinced that all trucks are not devils on wheels and what happened to him was a rare chance,he can go on to the next step.

Perhaps he is still fearful of driving a vehicle.He can ask a trusted friend to drive him down a deserted road.When he is fully comfortable riding pillion,he can himself drive a vehicle accompanied by his friend if he likes.Slowly he should graduate to solo driving and increased traffic.

The scariest part--that of driving on a highway,should be attempted only when he feels equal to it.The important thing is-there should be no coercion.Each new step should be taken only when he is fully confident that he can do it.

Of course this is not easy--there will be tension,palpitations and sweating.But think of the good that is going to come out of it.

*Relaxation Techniques

Because this whole process is stressful,one needs to practice relaxation techniques alongside the steps delineated above. Meditation and Pranayam are excellent for soothing the nerves and stilling the mind.They endow peace and positivity.

There is nothing like shavasana for giving rest to a tired body and relaxing tense muscles.Try it.

Initially all these efforts will look like an uphill task but once the pattern of reacting to a phobic situation is broken and the brain has adjusted accordingly,there will be no more fears.You will be much happier than you have been ever since the phobia got you in it's clutches.Remember:---



Image courtesy google.

20 comments :

  1. Very Nice Explanation of Fears and Phobias and ways to overcome them..I am delighted to read this.. :)

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    1. I am glad you liked this post Harsha,thanks for your kind comment.

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  2. That was informative Indu - and thank God these phobias can be cured. There is however a problem in inter-personal behavior - a similar phobic behavior - which cannot be cured only because it is seldom recognized as such. I mean the "I do not like Tamilians" or "I do not like Brahmins" or some such reaction which a person thinks makes up his persona but may be mere phobia induced by a bad interaction he experienced or knows of with the people of that community.

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    1. Yes Suresh one has to acknowledge a problem before one can fix it but we are often dogmatic about what we believe or want to believe.Thanks for coming over.

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  3. Good one. Small kids at certain age start fearing to go alone even inside the home.

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    1. Yes Rajesh small kids have many fears but they outgrow them-unless there is a trauma behind it.

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  4. Nice article Indujee I have fear of heights :D

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    1. Than you Vijay,for the compliment at forum and also here.
      Regarding the fear--now you know what to do!

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  5. wow that was a commendable aricle u wrote! I have a phobia from lighting us the gas stove with a gas lighter. Might sound stupid, but I use matchbox to light up the stove instead of the lighter. Develpoed this fear wen I was 12 or 13 i guess..

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    1. Shilpi welcome to jeeteraho.I am glad you liked the first post you read here and i am sure if you decide to get rid of your phobia you will be able to do it--just be persistent in your efforts.No, your phobia is not stupid-there must be a reason behind it.It just got entrenched.

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  6. I loved this post, Aunty. Fears, I don't have many for I have come a long hitting many road blocks..Phobias, I do. I am scared of heights (Acrophobia)..I am scared of big rides in these amusement parks...I am phobic about holding my breath under water..I know I have to over come them, but not trying and I just gave up. And the highway thing, I wanted to over come it for years now, I did last month and I feel on cloud nine. I think it is the need that drives man to do what he got to do. I feel Fear is a demon inside..you kill the demon and the world is yours.

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    1. Latha first of all congrats for winning over your highway fear.We all ignore fears which do not interfere much with our lives-those can wait.But you have done what was needed.To tell you the truth i too don't like to go on those cartwheel rides.
      Thanks for praise-i am glad you liked it.

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  7. Very insightful article and so well put. That quote in the end is such a brilliant round up of an excellent piece on fears and phobias - Everything we run away from exists nowhere but in our own head - How true!

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    1. Arti your sweet comment has transported me to seventh heaven-thank you buddy.
      Love n hugs.

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  8. That is a very elaborate post on the topic. You must have done lot of study on it. Great work.

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    1. Thank you Indrani--your appreciation means a lot to me.

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  9. Hi Indu how did I miss this lovely write up ?

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    1. So glad you liked it Jaishree.Cheers :)

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Thanks for reading my post.I hope you liked it :).