Understanding phobias is extremely difficult, even for the sufferers. Thus, in this booklet we shall try to explain, in simple language, what phobias are, how they work, the effect they have on sufferers and possible ways to overcome them. Obviously sufferers are affected in many different ways so, it is not possible, herein, to produce individual recovery programmes. However, we shall look at some of the main steps that can be taken to aid recovery. We have not attempted to explain the medical diagnosis of phobias as we are not qualified to so do. Anyone wishing to know more of this aspect of the illness should refer to one of the many good medical publications on the subject.
All phobias centre on our normal fear mechanism and so someone who has a phobia is perfectly normal except that they have an illness of the nervous system. Sufferers are not mad, peculiar or different from anyone else, they just get frightened at the wrong times and in the wrong places. They don’t choose or want to do this, it is the nervous illness which makes them act in what, to other people, seems an irrational manner.
Phobias, like all anxiety disorders, can be overcome. You do not have to suffer the illness for the rest of your life!
If you want to get better let us help you
The beginning of a phobia usually follows periods of stress and often starts after a final trauma, “The last straw which breaks the camel’s back” or after a first panic attack which appears to come out of the blue. In the early stages of a phobia, sufferers feel frightened when in a particular place or situation, without knowing exactly why.
Whenever they go into the particular place or situation they experience an overwhelming feeling of impending disaster and feel a compulsive urge to escape from it. Sufferers do not know why they are afraid but the feelings of fear which they experience are very real. These feelings start a spiral of fear wherein sufferers begin to think that they will get these awful feelings wherever they go. In this way, an agoraphobic stays at home, a claustrophobic avoids all lifts, a monophobic avoids being alone and a space phobic avoids going in the garden.
A phobia is actually a fear of fear because sufferers are not really
frightened of any particular place or situation but are frightened of the feelings of terror that they get when they are in those places or situations. They know that there is no real physical danger but are unable to totally convince themselves that everything will be perfectly safe. There is always a feeling that “something” might just happen. This is known as the “What if” factor and consequently sufferers avoid more and more situations and places just in case “What if” occurs. Needless to say it never does nor ever will happen but sufferers cannot bring themselves to take that risk.
No Panic is a self-help cognitive/behaviour therapy based organization but this does not mean that we have the only solution to phobias. We readily accept that other methods work for some sufferers. However, we do know that, at present, the methods we use have the highest proven success rate. Our methods may seem a bit long and drawn out and require much hard work so, if you are looking for an overnight, miracle cure, then we regret that we cannot help you. Hard work will bring positive rewards “No pain – no gain”. We give no promises or guarantee of success but we ask to be judged by the thousands of sufferers who, by using self-help cognitive/behaviour therapy, can now lead and enjoy a “normal” life.
The “Fear” Factor
To understand phobias, it is necessary to understand the “Fear” Factor. All phobias centre around our natural reactions to fear. Anxiety is another name for fear and everybody gets anxious at some time or another. Phobia sufferers are really afraid of the feelings of fear that they get when in their “Trigger” situation. Nearly all phobias are centred around situations, places, objects or animals which cannot possibly harm them. However, there are exceptions of course, like snakes, but even this phobia is out of proportion to the amount of snakes which can actually cause harm.
Fear is a natural response in all of us. It keeps us safe by making sure that, most of the time, we are not in dangerous situations. However, sometimes when we are not thinking about what we are doing we do things which are dangerous, e.g. stepping off the pavement without looking and consequently nearly getting knocked down. The shock to our system, when something like this happens, is enormous and very unpleasant. We sweat, shake, tremble, feel sick and our heart pounds.
The vehicle, as it gets close, will probably sound it’s horn and our ‘fear’ response gets us out of danger. Without the ‘fear’ response we would have just stood in the road.
Fear is a skill which we learn as we grow up. How many times do we see children run onto a busy road? They have not yet fully learned the ‘fear’ response. No matter how careful parents are, children still forget their ‘fear’ training. The only thing they focus on is their ball rolling onto the road, or a friend on the opposite pavement and so they rush out oblivious to the oncoming dangers.
It can thus be seen clearly that ‘fear’ in the right place is essential to our well being. Without it I doubt if most of us would survive very long. You may say this is all common sense and quite rightly so, because it is common sense to be frightened in the right places.
Thus having established that we need fear to survive, what has this got to do with phobias? The answer is that, over a long period of time,
sufferers have learned too much ‘fear’ and so they get frightened when there is nothing to be frightened of. Therefore, the distressing feelings of fear that a ‘normal’ person gets only every now and again, when in a real dangerous situation, are a continual daily part of the lives of phobia sufferers.
The nervous system, which carries messages to and from the brain, is continually telling the brain of a phobia sufferer, that there is something to be frightened of when they are in their ‘trigger’ situations or places, even when there is no real danger present.
Sufferers can understand logically that there is no reason for fear but their nerves are telling them otherwise. The feelings that they experience are real and very distressing and have to be dealt with, usually by escape or avoidance. This avoidance pattern only serves to reinforce the fear and does not help sufferers to overcome their irrational fear. Thus, sufferers continually escape or avoid and by so doing they reinforce their fear. The more the sufferer avoids, the worse the situation becomes until their lives are totally dominated by the “Fear” Factor.
Sufferers will often get other people, usually family members or close friends, to accompany them on their trips out but this is a dangerous road to go down as, eventually, the sufferers will not go anywhere without their “carers”. Thus, not only are the lives of the sufferers totally dominated by their phobia but so are the lives of their “carers”. This is a totally unfair situation to impose on “carers” and so sufferers must learn to overcome their fears on their own. Only in this way will a complete recovery be achieved.
It is only by slowly facing up to your fears, alone, that you will eventually overcome your illness. Try not to make others a prisoner of your fear.
What causes phobias?
The simple answer to this question is that no-one really knows.
Certainly most reported cases of the phobias discussed in this booklet follow long periods of stress, usually followed by one final trauma which triggers the illness off. It may be that it is caused by things which we have learnt as a child or, as some schools of thought suggest, by a chemical imbalance somewhere in our system. We, at No Panic, have an open mind and believe it is most probably a combination of many things. However, whatever the cause may be we have to overcome the present situation. Many sufferers have spent a lot of time and much money on trying to find out why the illness started and what caused it but, even if they have come to a conclusion as to the why and what, it has not helped them to overcome their illness. The time and money would most probably have been better utilised in tackling the current problem. Deal with the present, plan for the future and learn from the past.
Who gets phobias?
Anyone!Phobias do not seem to affect any one type of person in particular and people in all walks of life can and do suffer from the illness. Phobias do not, generally, appear to run from one generation of a family to the next although; there is some evidence that a child will copy a parent’s behaviour pattern. Basically the illness seems to revolve around an individual’s capability to deal with stress and stress tolerance levels vary from person to person.
How common are phobias?
There is no concrete evidence as to the exact figure for the number of phobia sufferers in the U.K. However, the recent surveys indicate that the total is about 10 million of which about half relate to the phobias discussed in this booklet. Many sufferers still do not admit to having a phobia because they see it as a weakness or something to be ashamed of. The sooner we can persuade phobia sufferers to accept that it is a “normal” illness the sooner we shall know the true figure.
Can you cure phobias?
If, by this question you mean is there a tablet or a medicine that will cure the illness then the answer is no. At present the medical profession does not know enough of what causes a phobia to be able to manufacture a drug which will either stop a phobia happening or cure it once it has started.
Can you overcome phobias?
The answer to this question is most definitely yes. Many thousands of sufferers have done so using cognitive/behaviour therapy. This is a method which involves changing the way we think and physically facing up to the situations which we fear, in manageable stages. This will then rebuild the sufferer’s self-confidence and enable him/her to go into situations which have been causing him/her problems. This method is not particularly quick but it does offer long term benefits for sufferers who use it.
As mentioned on page 1, the degree to which sufferers are affected varies enormously. However, all recovery programmes must be structured around facing up to the fear. The rate at which different individuals can cope with cognitive/behaviour therapy will vary from person to person so you must not judge your progress against other people’s progress. The important thing is to keep on practising and eventually you will overcome your illness. Also, because people are at different stages it is not possible, herein, to produce individual recovery programmes. However, we have illustrated how some people’s programmes worked and this should give sufferers some ideas about making out their own recovery programme. Alternatively, why not give one of our help-liners a ring and get him/her to help you make out the programme.
The more you practice, the sooner you will get better. Don’t just take our word for, try it!
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