Phobias can manifest in many ways. Recently I did a search online to find out how many official phobias there are, and I found a few sites stating over 500.
While working at the treatment center I was introduced to many phobias that I had never even thought of. Truth is that we can develop a phobia to anything. Anything that we attach fear to, can be added to the list of possible phobias.
I have met people with phobias towards specific types of foods. Specific weather events. Even wearing a specific type of clothing. Types of phobias are as endless as our imagination.
Typically what causes most phobias is the fact that we have a panic attack. The panic attack in many cases has nothing to do with what we ultimately develop a phobia of, but in our minds, we associate the panic attack with whatever we have going on at that moment.
So for instance, if a person has a panic attack driving, they may become a driving phobic. Despite that the panic attack may have had nothing to do with driving in the first place at all, it just coincidentally happened that the panic attack occurred while during the act of driving. But in our mind, we associate the driving with the panic attack and the two become linked.
Panic attacks are the physical manifestation of fear. As with all anxiety, it begins with a “what if” question we ask ourselves. The “what if” question is regarding the future, and this raises fear about a situation, as well as doubt about our ability to handle the situation. These “what if” questions can be regarding something happening a few moments into the future, or days, weeks, months, even years into the future. Its always about something happening, sometime in the future.
Often, when we first begin to develop panic disorder or phobias, we may not even be aware that we are asking ourselves a “what if” question. The question arises without intention within our subconscious. This is our natural “self-defense system” (anxiety) trying to assess danger in an effort to protect us.
It is likely that prior to experiencing a panic attack, we may have had these “what if” questions often, and for a long period of time before we ever get to a physical manifestation of the fear. It builds within us. Over time we become sensitized to a particular thought (“what if”) and our awareness of this thought grows and increases over time. Until one day when our system reaches the point of believing that we are in actual danger, and sending the ultimate warning response; a panic attack.
The one exception to the above scenario is people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In cases of PTSD, a person can become sensitized to a specific trigger extremely fast. This is another topic, for another post.
In the case of specific phobias, it is quite common for the person that experienced a panic attack to become fixated on one thing that was going on at that very moment. What they were doing, where they were, what they were wearing or eating; there is something about that experience that stands out to them for one reason or another. And this typically become the trigger that contributes to further episodes of the specific phobias we experience.
Recovery from all phobias is the same. Once our self-defense system (anxiety) has deemed something dangerous, it will continue to sound the “alarm” whenever we are reminded of the trigger. Whether we see the trigger, think of the trigger or even dream of the trigger, our bodies will have the same reaction in all cases.
Learning to change our response to the trigger is how recovery is created. Once we become sensitized to a specific trigger or multiple triggers, we will always have an initial thought when we are reminded of the trigger. We cannot stop or prevent this initial thought from ever happening.
Recovery exists in what we do after the initial thought.
All thoughts only last for a short period of time. They arise, express themselves, and then dissipate. Regardless what type of thought is, our thought process is always the same. Happiness, sadness, anger, anxiety driven; we experience all emotions and thoughts in the same way.
What allows us to focus on anything or experience an emotion for a long period of time, is not the initial thought, but rather all of the follow-up thoughts we have after it.
So recovery is not stopping or preventing the initial thought. Recovery is reconditioning our thought pattern not to follow up the initial thought with additional thoughts about our trigger.
Using the physical and mental tools to break our thought process and our conditioned response to the trigger is how we begin to manage our thoughts. This is where we teach ourselves how to let go of a thought, and redirect our attention and focus elsewhere. This is how we engage in behavior modification and create recovery.
Whether we experience suffering from phobias or from generalized panic disorder, to generalized anxiety, we need to create a new response to our triggers. Tools are the things we can do to engage our anxiety disorder where it exists; in our heads.
The use of tools empowers us. Creates confidence within ourselves. These are the foundation of recovery.
Practice, practice, practice! Practice the tools when you have little or no anxiety. Use the tools when your anxiety levels start to climb.
Implement self-care in your life. This is very important. Self-care allows us to feel empowered. It also reestablishes self-worth and self-importance in your own life. Do not underestimate the power of self-care.
Never give up! Persistence!
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