How to Overcome Phobia

Four Methods:Preparing to Overcome a PhobiaUsing the Desensitizing TechniqueChallenging Negative Thoughts and FeelingsUsing Other Methods to Combat Anxiety

Clowns. Spiders. Heights. Needles. Flying. What do these things all have in common? They're some of the most common phobias. A phobia is actually an intense form of anxiety with a deep sense of fear to which the body reacts. While severe phobias should be treated with professional therapies and/or medication, you can overcome most mild to moderate phobias and reduce the anxiety associated with a phobia.

Method 1
Preparing to Overcome a Phobia

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    Identify your fear. Really think about what you're afraid of. For example, while you may hate going to the dentist, it might be the use of needles that you're truly afraid of. In this case, you'd want to focus on your fear of needles, not the dentist.[1]
    • If you're having trouble pinpointing your phobia, write down a list of the things that scare you. You may be able to isolate the true fear.
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    Write down your goals. Set tangible, achievable goals. It will also be helpful during treatment to consider the benefits that come from these goals.[2] Write down a variety of goals at different levels. Having small achievements will help you work towards tougher aims.
    • The act of writing down your goals can actually help you succeed. You're more likely to write down detailed, achievable goals, rather than vague ones. You'll also be more committed to sticking with them.[3]
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    Make a coping strategy. It's naive to assume that you won't encounter any obstacles. Instead, imagine how you want to react to what frightens you. You could visualize something else, face the fear head on for a set amount of time, or you could distract yourself by doing an activity.
    • Realize that your coping strategy should change as you encounter and achieve goals. While you might initially cope by distracting yourself, you may eventually be able to face your phobia for small periods of time.[4]
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    Know that being afraid is perfectly normal. After all, fear has helped humans survive in many situations. On the other hand, fears may easily turn into phobias, also prevent someone from accomplishing certain things. For example:[5]
    • It is normal to feel anxious if you look down from a skyscraper. On the other hand, turning down a dream job just because it happens to be at the top of a skyscraper, is not helping you achieve your goals/dreams.
    • Many people feel anxious about getting shots or having blood drawn. Shots can be painful. It is when someone starts to avoid medical examinations and treatments just because he or she might get a shot, that the fear becomes problematic.

Method 2
Using the Desensitizing Technique

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    Enter the exercise feeling relaxed. While everyone relaxes differently, find something that works for you. You may try simply visualizing a calming scene, releasing tension in your muscles, practicing breathing, or meditation.
    • Try to work on a relaxation technique that can be done anywhere at anytime. This way, when you encounter your phobia, you can overcome your fear.
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    Write down situations where you encounter your phobia. Be as detailed as possible and include all types of experiences, from the mildly anxious to terrifying. This will help you tackle your fear at a variety of levels.[6] For example, if you are afraid of heights, you might encounter them in the following situations: hiking on a mountain, flying in an air plane, and going up a sky scraper in an elevator.
    • After compiling the list, you may notice similar variables between certain types of fear. For example, you may find that you have a terrifying reaction to flying and riding in an elevator. You may realize that both involve small spaces.
    • If you have multiple phobias, such s snakes, spiders, and clowns, choose one to start with. It is easier to tackle one phobia at a time.
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    Rank your situations. Order your list of situations by how anxious or fearful they make you. Start your list with the situations that only make you mildly anxious or tense. Place the scariest situations towards the end of your list. For example, if you are afraid of dogs, your list might start off with simply looking at a picture of a dog, and progress to seeing a dog outside your window, across the street, and end with petting a large dog off its leash.[7]
    • Your list may not be very long or it can be incredibly lengthy. What matters is that you have a guide to deal with your phobia.
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    Imagine the first item on your list.[8] You should start by visualizing the least upsetting item. Practice relaxing until you feel your muscles lose their tension. Once you've done this for a minute, take a break and repeat the exercise a few more times.
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    Gradually work through your list. Once you have mastered an item, move on to the next one until you've reached your most feared situation. Some items might take a lot longer to master than others. For example, you might get over looking at a picture of a spider a lot quicker than actually having to hold a spider in your hand.
    • Don't be afraid to ask someone for help if you find yourself stuck, or unable to work through an item on your list. He or she may be able to help you work through your fear.
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    Seek out your situations in reality. Once you've worked through your situation list by visualizing and relaxing, find your phobia in real life. By now, you should be well trained in relaxing.
    • Start with situations that produce little anxiety before encountering the scarier items on your list.
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    Continue to confront your fear. Even once you've overcome your most dreaded fear, keep exposing yourself to it so that you don't let the fear return. This repeated exposure will allow you to manage your response.
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    Reward yourself for a job well done. Perhaps one of the reasons you are so afraid of dogs is because you've had a bad experience with one as a child. Your mind held on to this, and turned it into a phobia. Once you conquered your fear of dogs and managed to pet a large dog without feeling anxious, go out and treat yourself. Have an ice cream cone or a fancy latte. Your mind may start to associate good things with the very thing you used to fear.[9]

Method 3
Challenging Negative Thoughts and Feelings

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    Pin point your phobia and the negative thoughts associated with it. Phobias usually come with three different types of negativity: fortune telling, overgeneralization, and catastrophizing.[10]
    • And example of (bad) fortune telling is telling yourself that the bridge will collapse when you cross it, the elevator will fall when you get on it, or that you will stutter and freak out when making your speech.
    • Over-generalizing is when you associate everything with one bad experience. For example, you might find yourself worrying that every dog will try to bite you because a certain poodle did that once to you when you were a kid.
    • Catastrophizing is a little bit like bad fortune telling. You take simple events, such as someone coughing, and imagine the worst possible—such as the person having the swine flu, and you contracting it.
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    Try to find something that contradicts your negative thought. For example, if you are afraid of dogs, try to remember a time when you encountered a dog, and things did not go badly. Think of all your friends who have dogs, and the nice experiences they've had. You might also try to tell yourself:
    • That dog has a leash, and the owner is holding tightly onto the leash.
    • The dog is very small. I can easily outrun it if it does try to chase me.
    • The dog is playing with people and other dogs. He is unlikely to be aggressive.
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    Consider the things you could do if your phobia actually comes true. For example, if you are afraid of elevators, you might be afraid of the dangers associated with them, such as the doors not opening, or the elevator getting stuck mid-level. Fortunately, there are ways out in these sorts of situations, such as pressing the alarm button, or pressing the call button and asking for help.
    • Having a sort of escape plan might help you when facing your phobia.
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    Try to rationalize your thoughts. Ask yourself, is the elevator really going to break down? Does it appear to shake and rattle? Does the dog really appear aggressive? Is it growling, or wagging its tail? Ask yourself if you are fortunetelling, over-generalizing, or catastrophizing.
    • This does not mean that you should abandon a rational fear. If that bridge really does not look safe (it is rotting and molding, there are planks missing, and the ropes or fraying), then yes, it would probably be wise to avoid that bridge.
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    Put yourself in a fearful friend's situation. If you are afraid of flying, try talking to yourself as you would to a friend who afraid of flying. What would you say to reassure your friend? You might say any of the following things:
    • The ratio between successful plane flights and plane accidents is very high.
    • That plane has a very high safety record. There have been no accidents recorded on that type of plane.
    • The pilot and co-pilot are very experienced.
    • Everyone was checked thoroughly before boarding the plane. There is no way someone could have brought on a weapon or a dangerous substance.
    • I've heard of many survivor stories from plane crashes.

Method 4
Using Other Methods to Combat Anxiety

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    Talk to a friend, family member, or someone you trust about your phobia. The purpose for this is twofold. First, you'll no longer be embarrassed by your secret fear. This will help you start to deal with the anxiety.[11] Second, you'll be able to ask others for help, especially when you get stuck.
    • Consider attending a self-help group for people facing similar fears. You might benefit from talking with and supporting others experiencing the same challenges you are.
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    Try joining a self-help group. Sometimes, it is easier to face your fears knowing that you are not the only one. Your family and friends may not understand what you are going through, but the people in the self-help group may. The people in that group may also offer up advice on how they managed or overcame their phobias. Some of that advice might work for you as well.[12]
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    Read a self-help book. Different people have different learning methods. Some people learn better through experiences, while others must read and analyze the material. Some books might even focus on certain types of phobias.
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    Consider seeking help from a psychologist. Some people might need additional help overcoming their phobias, especially if it that gets in the way of their daily lives. For example, an extreme fear of open spaces or talking to people, might prevent someone from going out to a store and buying food and other necessities.
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    Eat some carbohydrates and protein-sourced tryptophan. Studies have shown that this combination can help reduce anxiety.[13] A great example of this combination is a turkey sandwich.
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    Eat foods rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce anxiety and distress. While many assume that citrus is the best source of Vitamin C, you should actually try eating: yellow bell pepper, guavas, black currants, and red chili peppers.[14]
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    Use essential oils to reduce stress, tension, and create a feeling of calm. This can be especially helpful when you are trying to face your phobia. Consider using any of the following essential oil: bergamot, chamomile, jasmine, lavender, or ylang ylang.[15] Here are some ways in which you can use essential oils:
    • Mix a few drops of essential oil into a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba, and massage it into your skin.
    • Add a few drops of essential oil into your bath.
    • Consider making some homemade bath products using essential oil. A simple sugar scrub consists of 1 part sugar, 1 part coconut or olive oil, and a few drops of essential oil.[16]
    • Make your own oil diffuser by filling a bottle with warm water and adding 20 to 30 drops of essential oil. Stick some differ reeds into the bottle; the reeds will soak up the scented water and release their scent.[17]
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    Recite a mantra. Choose a word or simple phrase to repeat to yourself when facing fear or anxiety. This should be something that calms you or cheers you as you repeat it.[18] You can chant, speak, sing, or whisper. Choose whatever relaxes you the most.[19]


  • These measures do not stand-in for medical help, which may be required for severe phobias. Anxiety and stress can have hazardous effects on your nervous system and blood pressure. Professional therapies or medications may be required to treat your condition.

Article Info

Categories: Phobias