Living With Phobias

Tips and Ideas for Living With a Phobia

Living with a phobia can be challenging. Even if the feared object or situation does not regularly appear in your daily life, you may find that a lot of your time is spent worrying that it may appear or figuring out how to avoid it. In fact, by definition a phobia is something that interferes with your life.

Let's talk about the different kinds of phobias, their physical and psychological effects, how to talk to your family and friends about your condition, and what support resources are available.

Telling Friends and Family

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Check out these tips for living with phobias. Getty Images

Telling friends and family about your phobia may be very emotional for you. You may fear that they will judge you or make fun of you. After all, you may have joked yourself about someone having a phobia in the past.

You may also worry that your loved ones will "label" you, and treat you as if you are sick. In turn, your friends may either coddle you in a way you wish they wouldn't, or on the other hand, avoid you.

Although disclosing your phobia can be difficult, it is a necessary step in the healing process. At first, you may wish to talk to just a close friend or two. You probably know which friends will be most accepting. Keep in mind that you do not need to tell everyone. It is your choice.

If you see a therapist, he or she may be able to guide you as you bring up these difficult discussions. In general, it's best to be as honest as possible. If you try to down-play the grief you are experiencing due to a phobia, your friends will likely also "play that game."

Psychological and Emotional Effects of Phobias

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Phobias can impact your life emotionally in many ways. HBSS/Corbis/Getty Images

Phobias often have a far-reaching effect, causing difficulties in many areas of life. You may wonder if what you are feeling is normal. Phobias can impact your life emotionally in several ways.

  • Phobias can cause severe anxiety, and the emotional and physical responses that accompany anxiety.
  • Phobias can be isolating. Some phobias (especially agoraphobia) can lead you to avoid social situations. Not only are you left alone, but then have time to wonder why you can't be like everyone else.
  • Phobias can be embarrassing. You may be embarrassed due to you phobia alone (you're afraid of what?) and by the decisions you may need to make due to your phobia (when you decline an all-expenses paid trip to a private Caribbean island because you are afraid to fly.)
  • Phobias can leave you feeling helpless. Just as others wonder why you can't simply not be afraid, you may feel at a loss for being unable to control your phobia. This feeling of helplessness can also leave you feeling much less control over your whole life.

Support Resources

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Support resources are available to help people cope with their phobias. Tom Merton/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Although you will find primary support from your therapist and closest friends or relatives, you may discover that additional support makes coping easier. There are both online and offline support resources for people with phobias.

Many people find it helpful to read first-person accounts of people’s personal struggles with phobias. Others search for the latest treatment information. Many find that simply speaking with someone who has been there ​makes things a bit easier to handle.

Although many phobia sufferers experience similar concerns despite the type of phobia they have, each type of phobia also brings with it specific concerns. It may take you awhile to find the right support group or support community, but once you do you'll be glad you took the time. Even if your family an friends totally "get" what you are coping with, there is something special about being able to talk with others who are facing some of the same challenges.

Take a moment to learn about the treatment options for phobias, and the types of therapy and counseling often used.

Specific Phobias

They always come out at night
Specific phobias may seem almost funny to others, but are not a laughing matter for those who experience them. PeopleImages/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Some specific phobias are fairly easy to avoid if they do not regularly appear in your daily life. If you have a fear of heights (acrophobia), it may take as little effort as avoiding high places. Some phobias, such as the fear of spiders (arachnophobia) can be difficult to avoid anywhere. Even phobias, such as the fear of thunderstorms (astrophobia) can be managed to some degree.

You may experience embarrassment when asking if a new friend has a dog or turning down a camping trip for fear that boating may be involved.

However, if you have a specific phobia, you may be fearful of new situations. You may worry that the object of your fear will be present. (And in this you begin to fear your fear.) It is this fear of your fear that can turn a specific phobia into something which significantly disrupts your life.

Social Phobia

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Social anxiety can have a tremendous negative impact on your social life, but help is available. charlie schuck/UpperCut Images/Getty Images

Social phobia or social anxiety disorder can be extremely life-limiting. You may find yourself basing educational and career moves on the likelihood of being exposed to your feared situation. You might turn down dates or stay home from parties. Social phobia can also lead to self-replicating cycles in which your phobia causes you to act oddly, reinforcing your fear of acting oddly in public.

Agoraphobia

Lost and alone
Agoraphobia is one of the most challenging phobias, yet treatments can help many people overcome their fears and live a full life. PeopleImages/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Agoraphobia is perhaps the most pervasive and difficult to manage of all the phobias. Agoraphobia is essentially the fear of having a panic attack. When attempting to confront agoraphobia, you may have a panic attack brought on by the agoraphobia. This, in turn, may reinforce your belief in your inability to control panic attacks, making the agoraphobia even worse.

Thankfully, once the disorder is recognized, there are methods of coping with agoraphobia.

Sources:

Boll, S., Bartholomaeus, M., Peter, U., Lupke, U., and M. Gamer. Attentional Mechanisms of Social Perception are Biased in Social Phobia. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 2016. 40:83-93.

Mayer, S., Snodgrass, M., Liberzon, I., Briggs, H., Curtis, G., and J. Abelson. The Psychology of HPA Axis Activation: Examining Subjective Emotional Distress and Control in a Phobic Fear Exposure Model. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017 Feb 9. (Epub ahead of print).

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