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A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Got a phobia? Don’t freak out (or freeze) over it!

Some fear the bike engine, some fear escalators, some fear flowers. Whatever it is that makes your courage vaporise instantly, face it armed with these handy tips. You’ll come out stronger... and calmer.

columns Updated: Jun 18, 2017 08:06 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
Sonal Kalra,A calmer you,Phobia
This one is dedicated to all those with a phobia.

A very cute girl from the very cute city of Indore wrote in to me. Not taking her name here as I don’t have her permission to do so. Her stress touched a raw nerve somewhere. She’s scared of riding a bike. Terrified, actually. “Everyone in my class drives a Scooty to tuitions, to the market, to friends’ homes. I, too, have one, but I freeze every time I switch on the ignition. My father has been very supportive and tried hard to teach me to ride. I even took professional lessons. But each time I try to do it, my heart beat goes up, my hands start to tremble and I go numb. I hate the fact that I can’t do something that everyone else my age finds so simple,” she writes.

What I want to tell you, young lady, is that I also feel exactly the same numbness, when it comes to swimming. For years and years while growing up, I tried to overcome this fear of going inside water, especially when friends could easily learn the skill and bragged non-stop about the good time they had at pool parties and vacations. At some point, after feeling miserable for years that I just couldn’t, I accepted the phobia and stopped killing myself over it. Oye, hang on! Does it look like I’m telling you that acceptance of the fear means giving up trying to overcome it? Because exactly the opposite should happen.

The day you accept a phobia and stop tormenting yourself about it is precisely the day when the healing and recovery process actually begins. Because uss se pehle toh we are just too busy comparing ourselves with those who feel no fear and giving ourselves hell over it. Vaise maine na phobias mein PhD kar li hai shayad… there was a time when I would loosely use this term for every scare I faced. I used to claim that I have a phobia of heights, phobia of lizards, phobia of public-speaking, phobia of crowds, phobia of mother-in-law and so on. Okay fine, I made up the last one. But basically it became an easy escape route for something I didn’t want to do, sometimes out of sheer laziness. Also, it was fun to show off, since each one of these phobias has a fancy, unpronounceable name.

But one day, I went to an anniversary party and met a four-year-old child who had a phobia of — hold your breath — flowers. It’s called Anthophobia. The party had guests coming in one after the other, holding bouquets of flowers, and the poor child was in a state of misery, shrieking and trembling every time one of those came close to him. The other kids who couldn’t understand what was going on were, unintentionally of course, making it worse by coaxing him to touch the flowers or smell them as they just couldn’t get the fact that beautiful flowers can scare anyone. That evening stayed on in my head, and one thing I stopped doing after that was to make light of someone’s fear, or loosely address every aversion of mine as a phobia.

Anyway, coming back to the point, the girl from Indore has a valid, and very stressful concern when it comes to something as basic as riding bikes, because it tends to limit a lot of her independence and movement in life. I spoke to a couple of psychologists to get a grip on what one can do in the face of an intense fear of a seemingly easy activity, and here are my five tips. Disclaimer: Fear of not being able to make anything but idiotic remarks all through your life doesn’t have a name. It is a rare disorder only limited to Chaddhaji.

Tip 1 — Understand your fear: Zyada Google mat karna, nahi toh it seems like we have symptoms of every disease ever diagnosed by mankind. But just try to understand what exactly your fear is all about, and also the extent of it. As I said, not every fear is a phobia. Sometimes it’s an exaggerated sense of a natural hesitation one feels in trying out something new. Once you understand the difference, you’d be on the right track to overcoming it.

Tip 2 — Accept your fear: It’s okay to be scared of certain things in life. Really, it is. You’ve got to first make peace with your own reaction and stop blaming yourself about feeling fearful. Agar kisi aur ko darr nahi lagta toh it’s their trait. It doesn’t belittle you in any way. We’re all different beings. Your fear of lizards could be his fear of going to pee in a dark toilet. Insaan alag, darr alag.

Tip 3 — Don’t allow anyone’s mockery to disturb you: I could have said don’t allow anyone to mock you for your fear, but that’s not what I’m saying. Because you can’t always control how people behave. What you can control is how you react to their behaviour. Many times, even family or friends would make fun of your fear. I remember being dragged into the water by the best of my friends, who just wouldn’t understand why I was so fearful. Don’t get perturbed and don’t doubt their intention. Find polite yet firm ways to tell them why you wouldn’t want to do something that they feel is fun, let’s say, going on a roller-coaster ride. You don’t have to explain too much. Just firmly saying ‘I’m uncomfortable’ and leaving it at that mostly does it.

Tip 4 — Don’t let just about everyone dissect your fear: You are not a case study. And not everyone around you is a research scientist. Don’t get into long winding discussions with people who’ll tell you it is kiddish, stupid or cowardly to be scared of going on an escalator. It’s all of these, however, to not let people be. Don’t say it to them, though. Just smile and say, ‘It’s okay to sometimes be like a kid.’

Tip 5 — The most critical one: At your own pace, and gradually so, try to take small steps in overcoming your phobia. A small step at a time is what works. To the girl in Indore — start just with sitting on your bike and switching on the ignition. Follow it up after a few days with going just a few metres ahead. No one’s watching you, no one’s judging you. You’re doing it for yourself, not for anyone else. The small steps will one day take you there. They always do.

Sonal Kalra tried swimming in the bathtub. There was no fear. All the water came out once she went in.

Mail her at, Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra

First Published: May 06, 2017 17:41 IST