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A Step-by-Step Guide to Self-Treating Phobias

Dr. Aneel Shafi

2 min read

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The popular reaction to phobias is avoidance, which only strengthens the fear. And while most are highly unlikely to ever face the object of their fears, like urban dwellers fearing snakes or lions, some phobias can become major life hindrances, such as a fear of dogs, tight spaces, and flying.

In such cases, overcoming these fears through gradual exposure, aka desensitization, and learning coping methods is the best route. Here’s how you can do it yourself. However, we do recommend consulting a psychiatrist.

1-Make a List:

Jot down situations and places related to your phobia. For instance, if you fear dogs, list the places around you with dogs, things related to dogs, and what it is you exactly fear about them.

2-Tick It Off Gradually:

Arrange the above list in ladder-form, from least to most frightening, and gradually work up it. For instance, the ‘fear ladder’ for dogs may start with thinking about dogs, looking at pictures of them, befriending dog-owners (especially if they live in your neighborhood), going to places with dogs, like parks, the roads you frequent, and your friend’s houses, going closer to dogs, and finally touching one.

Do not proceed to the next step until you’re fully comfortable with the current stage to ensure the treatment’s permanency. Also, expose yourself to each step for longer periods every time.

2.5 Take A Friend:

More generalized phobias like claustrophobia or a fear of crowded places may sometimes require on-location support. Ask a friend to walk ahead in a crowded street for some distance and then wait for you to catch up, increasing the distance every time.

This will give you an achievable goal with the assurance that someone familiar is waiting at the end; and gradually you will learn to walk longer distances alone. You can also request friend-support for singularized fears like dogs.

3-Challenge Your Thoughts:

Catastrophizing (thinking the worst of a feared situation or object), using a past situation to define all future situations, and underestimating your coping ability are prime phobia fuels. Teach your mind to challenge the negative thoughts’ reality by realistically evaluating your fears and allowing yourself to think about the possibility of your thoughts beings excessive and out-of-proportion.

4-Change Your Lifestyle:

A healthy lifestyle can help reduce or keep phobic anxiety at bay. So, make sure to exercise regularly, eat well and regularly, set and follow proper sleep times, and try to avoid or reduce caffeine and other stimulants.

To Calm Down:

While your desensitization is underway, learning and implementing the following coping methods can help control distressing physical symptoms like palpitations and sweating in the face of your fears:

1-Learn Deep Breathing:

To combat hyperventilation, a common physical symptom of phobic anxiety, practice deep abdominal breathing and apply during phobic situations to calm down.

Sit or stand with your back straight. Placing one hand each over your stomach and chest, breathe slowly through your nose while counting to 4 so that your stomach hand rises more than the chest hand. Hold your breath for 7 seconds, contract your abdominal muscles and exhale through your mouth while counting to 8 so that the stomach rises more than the chest hand, Repeat and practice twice daily for 5 minutes each.

Regular meditation can also reduce anxiety for the long-term by activating the brain sectors responsible for feelings of serenity.

2-Sensual Arsenal:

Move, or engage one or more of your senses to help relieve anxiety and other physical symptoms during a phobic situation.

Examples include walking, jumping and stretching, looking at relaxing pictures or scenes, visualizing yourself successfully overcoming your phobia, listening to soothing music or natural sounds, singing, putting on your favorite perfume, eating your favorite candy, and giving yourself a hand or neck massage or touching something soft.

For Children with Phobias Parents Should:

  • Be open about the fact that phobias can affect anyone and are nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. Instead of belittling them, talk to them about their thoughts and feelings.
  • Conversely, instead of encouraging the phobia through avoidance, look for situations to help expose their children to their fears by offering them support through the friend method described above.
  • Try to teach by example, like demonstrating a feared situation and then showing them how they overcome it.

Most phobias are normally easily overcome through self-control, management, and practice. However, you may require medical intervention.You can also book an appointment with a top Psychiatrist in Faisalabad, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your mental health-related concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Aneel Shafi - Author Dr. Aneel Shafi is among the Best Psychiatrists in Lahore. Dr. Aneel Shafi is a Psychiatrist practicing in Lahore. He has MBBS and FCPS (Psychiatry) degrees and been helping patients deal with mental health issues for over 7 years. You can book an appointment with Dr. Aneel Shafi through oladoc.com.
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