Almost every person has some form of fear or phobia. A phobia is a type of extreme fear and anxiety towards an object or a situation in which the person will go to great lengths just to avoid.
From closed-in spaces to heights, dogs to flying cockroaches, there are phobias of all kinds - and many of them are irrational. You may be able to bungee jump of the world's tallest bridge with ease, but break out in a sweat panicking when faced with public speaking.
No one knows just what causes fear and phobias. They can start at childhood and disappear over time, or they can suddenly be triggered by a traumatic experience late in adulthood. So what can we do to prevent our fears from interfering too much with our lives?
Here are 4 types of mental techniques that can be used the next time you're seized by fear and want to crawl into the nearest corner to hide.
1. Create a "fear ladder" and slowly climb up it
Creating a fear ladder is a great psychological method to break down all the fear-related things that make up a fear, and then slowly tackle them in bite-sized pieces.
For example, Vanessa is deathly afraid of dogs. She tends to avoid places where there are dogs, such as parks or beaches (even though she used to love going to Sentosa beach on the weekends). She will cross the road or turn around if she sees someone walking with a dog. Vanessa's goal is to be able to be near dog with excessive fearing.
First, she will list down all the things that she's scared of regarding dogs and rank them 1-10 from least scary to scariest. Then, she can start organizing those fear items in a ladder format. The least scary item goes on the bottom rung, and every item has its own rung all the way up to the scariest item at the top-most rung. It will look something like this:
Vanessa will then tackle each step on the fear ladder in her own time under controlled exposure to dogs, until she is comfortable enough to finally be able to pet a large dog that's off-leash.
Once she has completed the fear ladder and can tolerate being around dogs, she can start a new ladder tackling other fears she may have. You can print out a blank fear ladder template here and start overcoming your own fears too!
2. Be aware of your own mental exaggerations
When under stress or pressure from fears, no matter how irrational, the human mind will start exaggerating the danger so as to speed up the fight or flight response. This is why when you are afraid of something, your palms go sweaty and you may even feel like fainting.
For Vanessa and her fear of dogs, one of the mental exaggerations would be that all dogs are scary and will bite her, especially the larger ones. By being aware that she constantly thinks this way, she can prepare a response to counter this such as watching youtube videos where big dogs are behaving gently towards young children, or if she has friends who have children as well as own a dog, she can take a trip to their place to see how the dog acts around the family on a typical day.
Being aware of your own mental exaggerations and having a response for each of them will help to assure yourself that the situation you are experiencing fear in is not as dangerous as you think it is.
3. Arm yourself with facts that will help minimize your fears
Similar to the previous technique of having a response for each of your mental exaggerations, this is taking it one step further by arming yourself with solid facts to counter any irrational fear thoughts you may have.
This is especially helpful if you fear a situation that is unavoidable, such as fear of flying in planes. Sooner or later, you are bound to sit in one when travelling, so it helps to prepare yourself mentally beforehand by reading up on hard facts to dispel the fears and help ease your discomfort.
Fact: Air travel is the second safest mode of transportation in the world. It is second only to taking the elevator! Fact: Your chance of being in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million. Fact: The most dangerous part of your trip, was actually taking the taxi to the airport.
4. Learn simple relaxation techniques
By learning relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises, they can be used as a coping mechanism for when your fear is causing serious anxiety or triggering breathing difficulties.
A simple breathing exercise is to you breathe in and out in sequence to the numbers as you count to 10. Breathe in '1'. Breathe out '2'. Breathe in '3'. Breathe out '4', and so on.
Another immediate way to stop anxiety from rising is to consciously relax your body from head to toe, focusing on how your muscles are progressively relaxing. Think about your blades of hair softening, to your scalp, to your forehead, and so on -- all the way till you reach your toes. This technique helps to shift your mind's focus away from your fear at the moment, so your body can stop being tense and start to relax.
Try either one of these methods out the next time you feel thrown out of your comfort zone.