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Overcoming Fear

  • Friday 14th October 2022
  • Gemma Cribb

Shark Dark

What is a phobia?

Fear is a normal part of life and helps us determine if we are in danger. Under normal circumstances fear can be managed through reason and logic and removal of the danger. A phobia however is a more extreme reaction that is persistent, irrational, and difficult to control. It is estimated that more than 7% of people worldwide have a phobia.

Many phobias develop after having a negative experience or panic attack related to and object or a situation. However, evolution, genetics and learned behaviour (eg. from your parent’s anxiety responses) can also play a role.

Fear of spiders (arachnophobia), fear of snakes (ophidophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia) and fear of sharks (galeophobia) are among the most common phobias people can develop.

Do I have a phobia?

If you answer ‘yes’ to many of the below questions it is likely you have a phobia:

Do you have immediate feeling of intense fear, anxiety and panic when exposed to or even thinking about the source of your fear?

Are you aware that your fear is extreme and unreasonable but feel powerless to control it?

Does your anxiety get worse as the feared situation or object gets closer to you in time or physical proximity?

Do you do everything possible to avoid the feared object or situation?

Do you experience physical reactions and sensations such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, tight chest or difficulty breathing when thinking about, or in the presence of your feared situation or object?

Do you find it difficult to function normally because of your fear?

  1. Pay attention to your thoughts and remember you are safe

Although you might feel scared, most people with a phobia know that there is no ‘real’ danger and that nothing bad is likely to happen when they face their fear. The difference between someone who is confident with spiders, snakes, sharks or heights and someone who is afraid, is the story they tell themselves.

Someone who is confident may still feel hyped up but, because they are thinking things like “This is so cool!”, “What an amazing opportunity!” they interpret those feelings as excitement. Someone who is scared will experience these same bodily sensations and be more likely to think things like “I’m going to fall/ be bitten”, “I’ll embarrass myself” and “I’ll feel awful”.

  1. Your uncomfortable feelings will pass

Normal anxiety sensations include:

  • pounding heart
  • shallow and rapid breathing or feeling like you can’t catch your breath
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • nausea
  •  numbness, tingling or crawling sensations
  • muscle tension or feelings of having a tight chest
  • trembling or shakiness
  • heavy legs, weak knees or feelings of instability
  •  sweating or hot and cold flushes.

Although uncomfortable, all of these sensations are perfectly safe. They will go away by themselves if you give them time and don’t worry about them.

  1. You’ll get better with practice

When working with phobias, psychologists encourage a technique called ‘graded exposure’. We encourage people to begin to face their fear on smaller challenges. For an animal phobia this might involve looking at a picture or a YouTube video of the feared animal. For a height phobia this might be climbing a ladder, or looking over a balcony.

Facing your fear on smaller challenges gives you confidence and the experience that your anxiety will pass and nothing bad or dangerous happens. Once you have made these first steps you will be well prepared to face your fear at the WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium or Sydney Tower Eye SKY WALK!

I encourage everyone who suffers from phobias to take the pledge and Face Your Fear. It will be a gift to yourself and an opportunity to grow that you will remember for years to come.

I look forward to helping people overcome their fears, feel proud of themselves, and share this memorable experience with loved ones.

Gemma Cribb. B Psych (hons), M Psychol (Clin).
Clinical Psychologist, Equilibrium Psychology

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