Phobias are not phun

Phobia pictureLately, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing one of those “Stars are just like you” posts, but with a motivational spin. I don’t take pleasure in reading gossip magazines, or watching a celebrity spiral into self-destruction. I believe that if you want to help people, you should use celebrity stories of triumph as a means to inspire. So those magazine articles that show stars grocery shopping and picking their nose at inopportune moments are a waste of time, space, money, and vision, at least in my opinion.

What got the ball rolling for this post was when a reader of my blog sent me an interesting infographic on different types of phobias, along with information on celebrity phobias (Thanks Frida!). Yes, celebrities are like you and me – they deal with their own psychological issues with the added burden of having to do it in the public eye.

My personal battle with Arachnophobia has resulted in some rather funny stories, all of which point to the fact that I really should try to get this fear under control. Here are some of them:

  • After noticing a spider dangling from my friend’s rear-view mirror, I proceeded to panic while she attempted to calm me down and guide the car through a busy intersection without killing us. After pulling over, she grabbed a Kleenex, reached for the spider, and the absolute worst happened: The spider fell and she lost sight of it. I assumed, of course, that it fell somewhere on me, and proceeded to open the door to jump out…only to find myself slammed back into the seat. In my panic, I had forgotten to unbuckle my seat-belt.
  • Rather than killing spiders, I cover them with a plastic cup and wait for someone else to deal with them.
  • When my cat refused to kill a spider out of sheer boredom (Oh yes, it really sucks when a spider doesn’t put up a fight, at least for a cat), I screwed up my courage, grabbed a really big shoe, closed my eyes, and smacked it wildly all over the floor. I did kill the spider. I was half-laughing and half-crying hysterically by the end of it, and proceeded to tell my cat that it was all her fault. She instigated it. I didn’t appreciate the look of mild shock with a hint of mockery in her eyes.

Before I offer tips that could help you (and me) deal with a phobia, I want to add one caveat: If your phobia is debilitating to the point where it affects your daily functioning (e.g. you can’t leave the house, you suffer severe, disabling anxiety when faced with your phobia), I highly recommend using the help of a therapist. The self-help movement has come very far and has empowered many people to take control of their life, but there are just some issues where the guidance of a trained therapist is important. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has shown to be quite effective, and if you’re open to alternative therapies, do some research on Energy Therapy, Hypnotherapy, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).

  • Practice deep breathing. Ideally, try to do this before you expose yourself to your fear. Once you have the technique down, it will be easier to tap into it when you need it. Many therapists refer to a “4-2-8” breathing technique:
    • If possible, lie down somewhere comfortable, or at least find a comfortable chair.
    • Place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest.
    • Breathe in through your nose, counting slowly to 4.
    • Hold your breath for a count of 2 seconds.
    • Exhale (from your mouth) for a count of 8 seconds.
    • Pay attention to your breathing – feel the rise and fall of your chest and stomach.
    • Keep doing this until you feel calm and relaxed.

Look at your fear rationally. It’s only normal that when we’re scared, we begin to think in catastrophic ways. This is sort of a nice way of saying that our thoughts get a little wacko and may not be as rational and realistic as they would be if we were calm. The goal of this approach is to become more aware of your thoughts and most importantly, challenge their legitimacy. Let’s look at my thoughts about spiders and how I would challenge them:

  • “The spider is going to bite me and I’ll end up in the hospital.”
  • My challenge: Poisonous spiders are rare where I live. Most spiders only bite as a last resort (i.e. if they can’t escape). And honestly, I only know one person who was bitten by a spider, so it doesn’t happen often.
  • “They are ugly and disgusting.”
  • My challenge: True, but I can’t really make myself feel better about that by putting a funny hat on them. Some insects are actually beautiful, like ladybugs and butterflies.
  • “Statistics show that we swallow at least a few spiders a year!”
  • My challenge: Who cares? I’m sleeping when (and if) it happens. Honestly, this statistic seems a bit exaggerated.
  • “I can’t kill them. I can’t go through with it. I’ll freeze.”
  • My challenge: Who says I have to kill it? “Hey, spider. Say hello to my little vacuum!” (I need to make sure to channel Al Pacino when I say this).

Create a gradual exposure program. I’ve always been one of those people who refuse to rip a band-aid off in one fell swoop, and who prefer to gradually get used to the temperature of a pool, limb by limb, rather than just jumping in. So if I were required to walk into a room full of spiders in order to dispel my fear in one shot, I would not be able to cope; I would be starting with something that is too overwhelming, too quickly.

Creating a gradual exposure programs allows you to slowly acclimatize you to a fear and offers you a sense of control. Here’s how I would build my exposure program: For each step, I would rate my anxiety level on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being extreme fear. If my fear is 7 or higher, I would take a break and practice my deep breathing technique, or return to a previous step. Once I was calm again, I would tackle the step again. I would keep doing this until my level of anxiety for each step reaches 2 or lower. And it doesn’t need to be done all in one day. I would take my time with each step.

Step 1: Start looking at pictures of spiders.

Step 2: Watch videos of spiders (thank you Animal Planet).

Step 3: Look at spiders from behind protective glass, like at an insectarium (preferably dead specimens first and then live ones, although I consider both disturbing).

Step 4: Find someone who owns a pet spider and stand in the room where the spider is being held in a cage or other enclosure. (Just thinking about this makes me uncomfortable…).

Step 5: Stand within a few feet of the cage.

Step 6: Stand directly in front of the cage.

Step 7: Touch the spider.

Step 8: Allow the spider to crawl on me to the point where I do not break into hysterical screams.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress, although I can already anticipate problems starting at Step 2.

Why can’t all spiders look like Tobey Maguire?

Insightfully yours,

Queen D


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s