How to Get Over Your Phobias

Flying. Snakes. Heights. Enclosed places. Crowds. The list of things and situations that trigger anxiety is endless. We all have things that make us fearful or nervous. However, if fears are interfering in your life, you probably have a phobia. Fortunately, there are many ways to get over your phobias.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder, which is the most common type of mental health disorder. They typically begin in childhood. There are three basic types of phobias: social phobia, agoraphobia (fear of places or situations where escape might be difficult, such as an elevator), and specific phobias. All elicit persistent and intense feelings of fear and anxiety that prompt you to avoid them.

Many treatments for phobias mirror those of other anxiety disorders. Your first step is to discuss your phobia with your physician, who can then recommend the appropriate next step.

Treatment Options

Psychotherapy, desensitization, and exposure-based therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, works well for curing phobias such as claustrophobia (fear of confined places), critters (spiders, snakes), blood or injury phobias, and social phobias (the belief that others are watching and judging you). During CTB, therapists teach you to develop new ways of thinking about what you fear, sometimes by gradually exposing you to it until you become more comfortable and your anxiety decreases.

Virtual reality. Computer simulation environments immerse you in a three-dimensional world of sights and sounds. Virtual reality treatment is also a form of exposure therapy that gradually desensitizes you to your phobias.

Self-help techniques. Depending on the severity of your phobia, you may be able to tackle your anxiety on your own, or with minimal support from a professional therapist. During unguided self-help therapy, you use professionally developed resources-often computer-aided instructional programs based on CBT-to learn how to get over your phobia. 

Many lifestyle changes that relieve anxiety may also reduce your phobia-related anxiety. Try exercising regularly and practicing relaxation and stress management techniques. Some people benefit from participating in a support group.

Medication. Medications, such as Clonazepam (Klonopin), help relieve the anxiety caused by social phobias, and beta-blockers treat symptoms of phobias, such as a racing heart.

The future of phobia treatment may even include inoculations. In a recent study, scientists injected a local anesthetic into the brains of goldfish trained to fear a bright light and found it temporarily blunted the fear response. These are very preliminary results, but might someday pave the way to a cure for phobias.




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