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Say boo to the bogeyman

Fears can be irrational, so smile and work on your phobias, says Jitendra Nagpal
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 05, 2010 09:29 AM IST

It’s natural to be afraid of things… however, when your fears have no rationale behind them, and seem irrational, then it should be an indication that a visit to a counsellor could be due. Such irrational fears are often technically called ‘phobias’. Occasionally, a phobia has its origin in some specific early experiences in life. A child bitten by a dog may grow up to be excessively fearful of dogs. A phobia may also be described as a persistent, abnormal, fear of a specific situation or object that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.

Most often one's fears cannot be explained or reasoned away. Interestingly, phobic individuals cannot voluntarily control of their fear and think it's best to avoid the situation or objects that make them fearful. Acute anxiety is experienced when many phobic individuals come in contact or imagine contact with the situation or object they fear.

Phobias can be of different sorts, the commonest one being the fear of being away from a safe place. There are many specific phobias. Acrophobia is a fear of heights. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. If you turn anxious and too self-conscious in daily social situations, you could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve tunnels, long driving, water, flying, animals, blood, insects, crowds, etc.

Of course, avoidance is a natural reaction to fear and the biggest obstacle to overcome in most of the phobias. It is tempting because in the short run it makes one feel better. Nevertheless, the tendency to quietly move away or escape from a given situation has to be worked through.

First step - learn to recognise it
Which may be difficult many times. In both cases, the message is the same: if you can face your the fears instead of avoiding them, you will be able to break the vicious circle and you'll become less fearful. It is important, therefore, to recognise when you are avoiding something - either occasionally or on a regular basis - what is building up within.

Good news - there is hope
There is scientific evidence that a large number of people with phobias can be helped. A counsellor can help you to decide what is best for your type of phobia. Behavioural therapy or medication helps people with phobias to ease the stress that accompanies their symptoms.

Help the young ones tackle the phobias
. Parents can help kids develop the skills and confidence to overcome fears so that these don't evolve into phobic reactions on growing up
. They should help the children deal with their fears and anxieties and give them ample opportunities to share, ventilate and stick to structured activities to face social challenges.
. Be open-minded to suggestions from counsellors/professionals for any formative therapies helping in lifestyle modification.

Talk to the person about their fears, and help them by being supportive and consistently reassuring. Don't belittle them for their fears; this will only make matters worse. Learn breathing and relaxing techniques, and teach them to youngsters. This can help in a bad situation when they feel a panic or nervous attack coming on. Overcoming phobia is of course a matter of self-confidence. If you suffer from a phobia, a mix of counseling and constant reassurance to yourself that there is nothing to be afraid of in a particular situation will go a long way in easing your distress. Reading this will also help you help a friend or, if you are a parent, your child. Of course, anti-anxiety medication can along with psychosocial guidance, but it's only you who can make them really effective.

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’

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