How to work with your fears

As a therapist, I have worked with quite a few people struggling with fears, or phobias. I’ve had people with common fears, as a fear of spiders, elevators, and driving on the highway. I’ve also worked with people with less common fears, such as fears for dirty hampers, and a fear of fallen leaves (which was especially challenging in fall!)

There are as many different therapies as there are roads that lead to Rome, but my go-to therapy for helping someone overcome their fear is exposure therapy. This is a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy technique and it is most often used with PTSD and anxiety.

Real Fear

First, let’s look at the basics: what is anxiety? Anxiety is a common human stress response and is part of the human spectrum of emotions. Back in the days of the cavemen, our fear was either to be eaten by a saber-tooth tiger or be outcasted by our peers. This fear is also known as “real fear”, meaning that there is imminent danger. Other examples of real fear would be walking down the street and noticing that the car ahead is not stopping for you, or walking through the Amazon jungle and all of a sudden a poisonous spider jumps on your arm. This type of fear is an emotional response to tangible and realistic dangers.

Perceived Fear

Nowadays we have something termed “perceived fear”, it’s a type of fear that we have created for ourselves, has usually never occurred in real life, and is founded out of worries. For example, the fear of heights, or of being trapped in an elevator, or the fear of driving on the highway. Of course, there is a chance that you have been in a car crash on the highway, which is why you developed a fear of driving. However, the difference between “real fear” and “perceived fear” is that the latter is an emotional response to a thought. In the case of the fear of driving, it is the thought of what might potentially happen on the highway that causes you anxiety.

Ah-Ha Moments

The reason why I like using exposure therapy with clients who want to learn how to stop being fearful, is because there are so many “ah-ha” moments in our sessions. This type of therapy teaches your brain that there is no pending danger with the phobia (which is the perceived fear), and it teaches you the power of your thoughts.

Learning to face your fears has to do with undoing the habit of listening to your thoughts when your mind tells you “I wouldn’t get on that elevator if I were you…”. If, in a controlled environment with a person you trust, you create a space where you feel comfortable to experiment with fears and thoughts, you might be surprised to find that you can leave the fears behind.

To learn more about what an exposure therapy session looks like, watch my video below where I outline what an exposure therapy session looks like)

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