Managing Phobias (Fears)

Are you afraid of flying? Snakes? Heights? Public speaking? Join the club! Although fears are even more common in childhood, with children typically having several fears (fear of the dark, fear of strangers, etc.), most adults still have at least one fear.

The key question is whether the fear interferes with a person’s life, making it difficult to work, attend school, or have an active social life. For example, a fear of snakes might not be much of a handicap for someone who lives in a major city. However, someone who needs to travel frequently for work might be greatly hindered by a fear of flying or driving.

If you have a fear that is interfering with your life, you may be relieved to know that many people have learned to overcome their fears. A counselor can help guide you through a plan such as the following:

  • Make a list of at least ten situations involving your fear. For example, someone afraid of cats might list “seeing a cat on TV” and “petting a cat.”
  • Put the list in order from the least frightening to the most frightening.
  • Learn a relaxation technique, such as deep muscle relaxation, with a counselor’s assistance.
  • While in a relaxed state, imagine the first (least frightening) situation on your list. Continue this practice until you can remain relaxed while imagining this situation.
  • Continue this relaxation/imagining practice as you work your way down the list, going at whatever rate is manageable for you.
  • Practice relaxation while going through some of the situations on your list (e.g., actually petting a cat).

With professional assistance, this approach can be effective enough to allow you to live less restrictively.