Feeling fearful is natural, an inbuilt human survival instinct; stemming from our caveman times when survival really was a matter of life and death. Modern day fears though, are often irrational fears or phobia where little or no realistic threat exists. The reality of the posed threat however, is irrelevant to those suffering from irrational fears, and often those afflicted are imprisoned by avoidance behaviour, preventing them from enjoying life and often leading to depression.
Some fears or phobias are less constrictive to everyday life, like a fear of snakes when you live in the city, whereas other phobias, like a fear of driving or social situations, can impede on everyday function. Interestingly, above fear of heights, snakes or flying, social phobia is reported as the most commonly held fear. Avoiding the feared situation is a natural response to reduce feelings of anxiety in the short term, however in the long term, the severity of the fear will only worsen. When fears are putting the hand-break on your life, it’s time to enlist professional help to kick those fears to the curb by challenging them to a duel.
One of the most well-known psychological practices for overcoming irrational thoughts and anxieties is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This involves challenging irrational thoughts as they enter the mind and shutting them down as to change action and behaviour. Once the thoughts are being cognitively challenged, the next step as a part of CBT is to overcome the specific phobias is by facing them front on. For many people, confronting the fear in real life situations, as stressful as it may be, is the only way out.
Exposing people or animals to things repeatedly so that they become so familiar and unstimulating, is what psychologists refer to as ‘Exposure Therapy’. This form of therapy is widely considered the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders and specific phobias. Essentially, the theory is based on facing your fears directly, not only by challenging the thoughts but by carrying out the feared action or immersing yourself in the feared situation to gradually decrease your sensitivity to the fear; in the end make it ‘boring’.
There are several variations of exposure therapy and your psychologist can help you determine which strategy is best suited to you. Exposure therapy can be a stress provoking experience and is best practiced under the guidance of a psychologist who will create a safe environment for you when undergoing this treatment. A gradual approach is often recommended with each confrontation or experience revealing new realities, building confidence and gaining power over those irrational thoughts and fears.
However difficult confronting those fears may be, the long-term benefits, far outweigh the short-term discomfort, setting you free to live life to its fullest. If you are a prisoner to your fears, take action today by seeing a psychologist. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.