Although it is always best to try to work through a phobia, completely ridding ourselves of deep-rooted fears is often challenging. Avoiding phobia-inducing situations may be difficult or impossible, and giving in to a full-blown panic attack could, in some situations, be embarrassing or even dangerous. Therefore, it is important to take steps to actively manage our phobic reactions while we work on getting rid of the fear. Although deep breathing, guided visualization and other methods can often stop a panic attack in its tracks, many people find that making small concessions to the fear can actually prevent a panic reaction before it starts.
One of my best friends recently decided to purchase a new car, and she asked me for help with the negotiating process. Although I have known her for years, I found out something new while we were car shopping. She is the only person I have ever met who prefers hand-crank car windows rather than power windows. When I asked her why, she explained that she suffers from both claustrophobia and a fear of water. She worries about someday falling off a bridge and into a lake or a river, and being trapped in the car as it sinks. Hand-crank car windows make her feel safer.
I am a Hurricane Katrina survivor. When Hurricane Isaac threatened to hit Central Florida in August 2012, exactly seven years after Katrina, I was in the middle of the state in an RV with my father, also a Katrina survivor. Although many of our fellow RVers laughed at us, Dad and I decided not to take any chances. We booked a hotel room at Walt Disney World for what we dubbed a "hurrication," a hurricane-inspired vacation. Although the storm ultimately tracked further west, ironically hitting New Orleans on the Katrina anniversary, Dad and I never regretted our decision. It made us feel more comfortable to know that we were in a solid and secure building rather than a potentially unsafe RV.
Why Do These Measures Make Us Feel Better?
A large part of any phobia is a feeling that we lack control over the situation. By definition, a phobia is irrational, yet we feel like we cannot stop ourselves from having the panicked reaction. Taking concrete actions returns a bit of control to us. The hand-crank windows and the hurricane evacuation act as security blankets, making us feel that we have done something to prevent the situation that scares us.
Isn't Taking These Steps "Giving In" to the Fear?
You may have heard that "giving in" to a phobia only worsens its severity. You might have been told to fight through the fear, effectively using a self-monitored form of flooding to try to rid yourself of the phobia. You may have even been ridiculed or shamed for having the fear at all.
In fact, phobias are not well understood by the general public. Well-meaning friends and relatives often perpetuate common myths, inadvertently making our phobias worse in an attempt to help. While flooding is often an effective technique when used by a qualified therapist, self-monitored flooding can actually make a phobia worse. As for "giving in," it is virtually impossible NOT to give in to a phobia in one way or another. Avoiding the feared object or situation, having a panic attack, crying and running away are all symptoms of a phobia, but any of those could be interpreted as "giving in."
Creating a comfort zone is actually a very healthy way of coping with a phobia. Rather than avoiding the object of fear or having a major reaction to it, a comfort zone allows you to face your fear. It allows you to do the things you need or want to do without wondering whether you will be able to cope.
Finding Your Comfort Zone
Phobias are highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for the next. Experiment with your fear at a time when you feel relaxed and are not in a hurry. Try different comfort measures until you find one that works for you. For example, some people with social phobia feel better when listening to music on an iPod or other music player. Some prefer to play with a tablet or smartphone. Still others carry a book everywhere they go. Finding what makes you comfortable may involve a great deal of trial and error. Stick with it and, over time, you might just find a way to keep yourself calm during your feared situation.Source:
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.