Recreate a Healthy Relationship with Fear
Welcome back! Yesterday, we looked at the diagnostic criteria for phobia and began to take a deeper dive into the subject of your irrational fear. Today, we’ll talk about how to recreate a healthy relationship with fear, and you will set up achievable goals for your healing.
When we are triggered by the feared object or situation, the amygdala in our brain perceives a threat and activates the body’s fight, flight, or freeze alarm system. Adrenaline is released into the blood from the adrenal glands, which speed up the body systems to avoid the feared subjects or to escape. In order to get through our fear, we must break this vicious cycle of phobic response and travel in the direction of what we avoided. Instead of fighting against or staying away, we need to train ourselves to accept and embrace fear.
It may seem counterintuitive to befriend intense fear, but there are practical exercises to recreate a healthier connection with fear:
1. Develop a positive attitude toward fear.
Start with identifying your beliefs about phobic responses. Finish the following sentences:
I think of phobia/fear as …
What my phobia/fear says about me is …
If I allow myself to fully experience intense fear, I will …
Are there negative beliefs in your answer? Notice the negative and now try to replace them with positive, affirmative beliefs. Write a list of positive functions that your fear serves you. For example:
“I think of fear as a guardian who wants to protect me.”
“My fear is teaching me that I am just human.”
“If I allow myself to fully experience intense fear, I will feel freer.”
2. Get used to naming your fear.
Next time you experience strong fear, try to describe your experience. Are you anxious, nervous, or afraid? Then try to name the bodily sensation in emotional terms—e.g., “This feeling that I can’t breathe is fear,” or, “This chill I feel along my spine is anxiety.” Emotions move through our bodies like water: When it’s stuck, it intensifies; when it’s allowed, it goes away. Psychiatrist and mindfulness expert Dr. Daniel Siegel in his video lecture suggests the term, “name it, tame it,” to explain this process on a biological level. According to Siegel, when we name the emotion we are experiencing, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex on the right side of our brain becomes activated, which calms down the excessively aroused subcortical regions in the amygdala.
Whatever we resist persists. Once we connect to it with acceptance, we can begin to redirect it. Medication, treatments, and therapy sessions may be helpful to countering phobias; however, as good as they are, they can only help you do it for yourself. You have to get used to the extremely unpleasant feelings the phobic situation triggers. This is the only road to full recovery.
What Are Your Goals for Recovery?
We will finish today’s lesson with setting tangible goals for your recovery.
Having achievable, clear, specific goals is very important for your healing. It helps keep you from the illusion that you will feel a lot better overnight; it also reminds you to acknowledge and celebrate small achievements.
What are achievable and specific goals?
I will give you my example. When I overcame my animal phobia (I was afraid of all living animals except human beings), I started with cats and dogs. So, instead of having goals like, “I want to be able to live on a farm,” or, “I want to milk a cow,” my goal was, “I want to be able to stay in the same room with a cat or dog for one hour, without touching them or them touching me.” Once I achieved that goal, I set my next goal as, “I want to be able to stroke a cat.”
Now it’s your turn. What are your goals in countering your phobia? Make sure your goals are tangible, specific, and achievable. It’s okay to take small steps and go slow. Write down your goals on a sticky note, and put it somewhere visible in your living space. Tomorrow, we will talk about how to use our bodies as a refuge and anchor to approach the phobic object or situation.
Sending you love,
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