It’s the spookiest time of the year, so I thought I would write about something else that can be spooky year round: phobias. Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences an intense and out of proportion response to something. Common phobias are things like animals, needles, certain places. Having a phobia is a debilitating disorder in which an individual consistently has an extreme reaction of fear and anxiety in response to a certain stimulus. The disorder causes impairment and often causes the individual to change their routine to avoid the specific feared stimulus. Phobias are a mental health diagnosis that is treatable and actually has high success rates. However, many people with phobias avoid treatment due to the uncomfortable process that is treating their phobia.

According to the NIH, about 12.5% of adults will have a phobia at some point in their life. It is a fairly common mental health disorder that is treatable by helping the individual face their fears and learn how to cope with those emotions that arise. Even if you don’t have a phobia, it’s likely that you’ve experienced some intense fear over something at some point in your life (going to the dentist, needles, fear of flying, etc.). Since we cannot always avoid the things that we are afraid of or that cause us stress, I have decided to compile some helpful ideas for the next time you have to do that thing you’re afraid of.

  1. Find a distraction. For those with fears of shots, staring at the shot and thinking about it will not be a helpful strategy. So it can be helpful to find something else to focus on. Play a game on your phone, bring a fidget toy, try to see how many things in the room that are orange, etc.
  2. Bring a friend. Sometimes our fears can be things like places, like an airplane, and being there can be super scary. Having a loved one with you can help calm you down and see that your friend is okay and likely so are you. Hold their hand, have them talk to you, there are lots of options when you have a friend.
  3. Remember to breathe! When we are scared, oftentimes our heart rate increases and our breathing pattern changes. It can be helpful to focus on taking some deep breaths. There are tons of breathing exercises you can try. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Pretend to blow out birthday candles. Breathing for certain counts of time. Pick whatever works for you.

Of course these are just a few options, so you can use what feels helpful and discard the rest because mental health is all about what works for you. If you find yourself being incapacitated by your fears and changing your routine due to them, you may have a phobia and it could be worth bringing it up to a therapist and potentially seeking treatment. It is scary, but there is help out there!