Our clients come to us carrying hesitation, trepidation and sometimes full blown fears. Often, they have been burdened by the sometimes crippling emotion for decades and they have no viable tools for releasing them. Accustomed to toting this form of distress, their lives are shaped and sadly, defined by what limits them.
Fears are defined, in the Merriam Webster dictionary as: “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”
These may include:
- Attempting new ventures
- Being visible in the world
- Public speaking
- Being wrong
- Impostor Syndrome
- Medical procedures
- Being wrong
Phobias take fear to another level; as if pumping up the volume on the stereo, until the sound overpowers the room. More than excessive fear; they are irrational. The belief is that by engaging in specific activities or being confronted with certain triggers, a devastating outcome will ensue. A list includes:
Ablutophobia- Fear of washing or bathing.
- Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places like markets. Fear of leaving a safe place.
- Arachnephobia or Arachnophobia- Fear of spiders.
- Arithmophobia- Fear of numbers.
- Arrhenphobia- Fear of men.
- Arsonphobia- Fear of fire.
- Bathmophobia- Fear of stairs or steep slopes.
- Batophobia- Fear of heights or being close to high buildings.
- Decidophobia- Fear of making decisions.
An example of such an entrenched belief was that of a young man who sought counseling because he was terrified of going bald, as had his father that he actually saw in the mirror, an image of himself as a bare headed man.
Even when his therapist told him that he had a full head of hair, he didn’t believe her. Even when; with his consent, she held up a mirror for him to face and still he described himself as losing his hair. Throughout their sessions, he would move in and out of the limiting thoughts, as got tired of the thought and was open to considering that he might be in error.
By the time he completed treatment, he had come to accept that perhaps his therapist was correct and that he was not bald or losing any significant amount of hair.
Once a person recognizes that the apprehension exists, the next step is to determine how to manage the symptoms.
- Do a body scan as you ask yourself about the sensations you are having. Is your heart racing? Are your palms sweaty? Is your mouth dry? Do you experience the fight, flight or freeze response?
- Take a few deep breaths. The American Institute of Stress suggests that when doing so:
- Metabolism decreases
- Heart rate decreases
- Muscles relax
- Blood pressure decreases
- Make a list of facts vs. interpretation. An example could be: The fact is, that I need to choose between two colleges to attend. Interpretation is, if I choose the ‘wrong one,’ my career is over before it begins. The outcome is likely to be fueled and impacted by the view one holds.
An example I have offered over the years to therapy clients is to tap on the desk at which we are sitting. I ask them to imagine their school experience. If they felt successful, accomplished, liked by the teacher, (maybe even teacher’s pet) and had many friends, couldn’t wait to get to school each day and my desk reminded them of their teacher’s desk, how would they be likely to feel? The answer was affirmative.
If, on the other hand, they hated school, got poor grades, felt singled out for bullying or intimidation of some kind and hid under the covers, when the alarm clock rang and my desk reminded them of their teacher’s task, what might be the reaction? Could be the stress related reactions of heart palpitations, sweating, anxiety and fear.
- Speak with someone you trust about your fears. A close friend or family member who can simply listen may offer the opportunity to just offload the emotions.
- Working with a competent therapist, which they are already doing if you are seeing them, can go a long way toward resolving the issues.
- Make a list of fears and then tear them up or burn them as you watch the smoke drift into space, taking the energy of the fears with them.
- Draw pictures that exemplify the fears. Perhaps it will show up like a roaring tiger, a pouncing lion, a claw and fang bearing monster.
- See the aforementioned creatures in front of you, as you imagine them diminishing in size, as the ferocious felines might become tiny meowing kittens.