Overcoming Fears and Phobias

When the world really was a dangerous place, if we had not have carefully scanned the environment for danger we may have died out as a species. And this is …..

What Fear is for

Many thousands of years ago, a woman was walking through a gorge with rock walls that stretched up towards the sun, shrouding the gorge floor in shade. She was making her way to a spring near where she and her tribe lived. As she rounded a corner, she found herself face to face with a huge bear.

The animal, surprised by her, attacked swinging a massive paw. It knocked her off her feet, cutting her badly with its sharp claws and breaking three of her ribs. Despite her injuries she sprang to her feet feeling no pain and ran back the way she had come.

Over the following months, her body healed and she was able to contribute once again as a member of her tribe. She started on light work and was gathering twigs one day when she came to a stone cliff that stretched up above her, shading her from the sun.

She suddenly began to feel very uneasy and looked around. There was nothing to be seen but still the feeling increased. She dropped her bundle, turned and ran back to the safety of her tribe.

Man the hunted

We have long referred to man as ‘man the hunter’. In evolutionary terms, and with regard to anxiety and panic attacks, this is highly misleading. We did not survive in hostile environments by being over-confident, brash, loud animals. We survived by learning how to be quiet, timid and very, very careful.

In a world where most large animals were stronger, faster, more vicious and armed with teeth or claws, the best way for humans to survive was avoidance.


Fear is good for you!

The highest level of anxiety, often called a panic attack, or the ‘fight or flight’ response, is a fantastic emergency mechanism which puts your body in the perfect state for tackling your aggressor or getting out of there fast.

All the adrenaline, the alterations in blood flow, the changes in the digestive system and so on, are designed to give you the best chance to stay alive.

For survival purposes, once we have ‘learned’ that a certain situation is dangerous by panicking, the mind ‘remembers’ this fact to ensure that the next time it sees a similar situation, it can give you the necessary anxiety or panic to enable you to run or fight, just like the woman in the story.

This is not the normal type of ‘remembering’ like remembering a name or telephone number, it is the sort that makes you feel good when you hear a particular piece of music, or feel happy when you look at holiday photos, or maybe feel a bit like a kid again when you walk into school as an adult.

‘Sloppy’ Unconscious pattern matching

We call this type of remembering ‘unconscious pattern matching’ because it is the ‘back part’ of your mind, the unconscious mind, that causes you to react in a certain way when it spots a particular situation or other ‘trigger’.

So if you have a panic attack in a car, you might feel anxious next time you are on a bus or train, because the situation is roughly similar. As far as survival goes, it is much better for us to ‘err on the side of caution’.

When a cliff becomes a gorge

The woman in the story above came to a cliff that roughly matched her terrifying experience in the gorge. She had ‘learned’ unconsciously that ‘high rock walls=danger’.

Despite the fact that she knew consciously that this was a different situation, her unconscious mind, looking out for her survival, ‘erred on the side of caution’ and gave her the necessary resources to get out of there fast.

Phobias… a quick definition

A phobia is a high anxiety response to an object, situation, or even a thought. Because the phobic trigger can be absolutely anything (we’ve had balloons, belly buttons and goldfish among the more unusual ones!), phobias can seem ridiculous, absurd or even funny.

For the phobic person however, the intensity of terror can be disabling and horrific. The good news is that phobias are simple to understand and usually easy and quick to treat.

Types of Phobia – Specific or Not

About one in ten people have a specific phobia. A specific phobia is an intense fear (or panic attack) triggered by a particular object or situation. This can be literally anything – from spiders to balloons, buttons to fish.

A non-specific phobia is a more generalised fear such as agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). They work in a similar way to specific phobias, in that the fear appears to be ‘attached’ to something less discrete.

Surely That’s Irrational?

Since often phobias cause people to be scared of non-threatening objects, they are often seen as irrational.

And, in a way, that’s right. A phobia has nothing to do with the thinking, rational part of the brain.

A phobic response is simply a survival mechanism ‘gone wrong’

The techniques we provide you with in order to deal with these life disabling conditions are fast and effective.