Let’s face it, everyone is afraid of something…
Fear and Phobia, What’s the Difference?
Fear is a natural response that has evolved with us over centuries, it’s hardcoded into our DNA. Under normal circumstances, fear triggers the fight-or-flight response that allows us to quickly respond to threats, thereby increasing our chance of survival. However, fear can very easily turn into a phobia (irrational fear) and create great distress that interferes with daily life. Katherina K. Hauner from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine estimates that 9% of Americans struggle with a “specific phobia” which is one of the most prevalent anxiety disorders. These often include fear of insects, needles and tight spaces.
Fears and phobias are developed through a combination of genetics and experiences. Genetic contributions are believed to account for 25-65%, with the rest dependant on environmental factors. Some studies also suggest that fear is learned not only from past experiences, but the experiences of others.
A group of kids were asked to name their biggest fears for a study conducted by Peter Muris, Harald Merckelbach, Ron Collaris which can be found here. This is the top 7.
Whatever the origin of your particular fear, there are many ways to treat it.
Before I continue, a quick disclaimer. I am not a doctor or psychologist and any recommendations I make are purely my opinion. They have worked for me, but may not work for you.
1) Admit your fear
The first step to recovery is acknowledgement. This might seem obvious but there is a difference between “knowing” and truly admitting something to yourself.
If the image below scares you a little, admit it.
2) Determine the cause
Try to figure out why you’re afraid. If it’s a spider, what actually scares you, being bitten or is it the way a spider moves? Try writing down your fears by finishing this sentence. “I’m scared of _____ because _______.
When you do this you will realise your reasons are not that strong and may seem silly.
The more you can understand the origin of your fear, the more chance you have of overcoming it.
3) Expose Yourself To It
The more you avoid something the greater your fear of it. If you’re scared of spiders, don’t run next time you see one. Stand a safe distance away and observe it, get familiar with it. Following the same theory as immunisation, exposure in small doses builds up resistance.
People with arachnophobia were asked to identify what they fear most about spiders, here is what they said.
Google is your best friend when in comes to conquering fears. People fear the unknown so an understanding of what you’re afraid of can go a long way to curing your phobia. Read articles, studies and get involved in the online community. You will meet people who are going through the same troubles as well as the people who have succeeded. Learn and share knowledge.
If you’re looking for credible sources try finding the original study the statistics are based on, Science Direct is a good resource.
5) Accept It
Try to accept the fact that this thing/situation does exist and can occur, think about how you will react if/when it does. Come up with a step by step action plan. If you’re afraid of the dark, imagine a situation where all the lights suddenly go out. What will you do? Feeling prepared can help you feel safe.
Paul Siegel at the State University of New York published a study where a group of volunteers were exposed to images of flowers or spiders in quick flashes. The idea was that people would process the images on a subconscious level, lessoning their fear. The study proved that looking at images of spiders will make you less afraid of them. Here is a small gif made to lesson your fear of spiders :)
There is no one solution to the problem. You need to find a method that works best for you. Thankfully there are qualified doctors, helpful forums and countless resources available. Here are some interesting articles to get you started.
– The scientific american – Why do we develop certain irrational phobias
– Psych Central – How fear is learned
– theconversation.com – Why we’re afraid of spiders
– NHS choice – Treatment (Phobias)
Comment below and tell us what you fear.