Self-Help Tips for Managing Phobias

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Phobias, the intense and irrational fear of an object or situation, can make it difficult to enjoy life; for example, the fear of heights may stop you from going certain places - your fear may be so intense that you feel uncomfortable near windows in tall buildings - or participating in activities. Common phobias include:

  • Heights

  • Flying

  • Insects (often spiders)

  • Thunder or lightning

  • Certain animals (often dogs or snakes)

  • Enclosed or small spaces

While these are some of the common phobias, there is no limit to what someone may develop an intense fear over. For example, a few unusual phobias include:

  • Barophobia - the fear of gravity

  • Euphobia - the fear of hearing good news

  • Selenophobia - the fear of the moon

Just about everyone has some irrational fear or phobia. You might get nervous when you have to go to the doctor for a shot or become panic stricken at the thought of a mouse running loose in your house. You might shriek when you see a spider crawling up your wall.

For most people, these fears play a minuscule role in their life and are easily avoided or when faced with the situation, you become nervous but not to the point it stops you from going about your daily life. But for some, the fears are so intense, the anxiety so high, that it prevents them from completing daily tasks or participating in family activities.

Self-Help Tips

The following are some self-help tips for managing phobias:

Face your fear slowly. Exposure is one of the most effective ways to overcome fears. You want to start by facing your fear in a controlled and safe way. Some people choose to do this in therapy or with the help of a trusted friend or family member. Create specific steps to become acclimated with the object or situation you feel anxiety about. For example, suppose you had a phobia about dogs; you could follow the following steps:

  • Look at a picture of a dog.

  • Have a friend bring a dog over and keep it outside your window, so you can see it but are separated from it.

  • Have your friend open the door but keep the dog outside.

  • Stand about 20 feet away from the dog, slowly closing the distance until you can stand next to the dog.

  • Touch and pet the dog - the dog may need to be on a leash first, then off the leash.

Practice and work with each step until you feel comfortable. This may take some time, you may need to repeat the step several times before you reduce your fears. Be patient with yourself, this process takes time, patience and practice.

Practice relaxation techniques. You may want to do deep breathing exercises every day. This not only helps reduce overall anxiety but gives you a way to calm yourself down in particularly anxious situations. When you do these exercises on a daily basis, this type of breathing becomes automatic and you can take deep breaths whenever feeling nervous to help calm down.

Change thought processes. This can be difficult but is essential to overcoming anxiety. Many times, when faced with a difficult situation, you exaggerate the negative aspects or worry about the outcome, making you even more nervous. Instead of thinking, "The dog walking toward me is going to bite me," tell yourself, "I can walk past this dog." As you pay attention to how you talk to yourself and begin to change your thoughts, you may notice a significant reduction in your anxiety.

Remember, phobias and anxiety have taken years to take hold of you and may take years to overcome. Continue to practice these techniques, every day. Keep a notebook of your progress, that way when you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, you can look back to see how far you have come.

For anxieties, phobias and fears that are stopping you from fully participating in your life, talk with your doctor or therapist. Some people find it helpful to utilize other treatment methods, such as medication, as they work on the techniques to overcome their fears and phobias. Talk with your therapist or doctor to find out if this would be a good option for you.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.