Free Press Journal

How to overcome fears and phobias

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The belief that ‘something terrible is going to happen’ is the starting point of all such fears, writes DR SHRIRANG BAKHLE.

J .C. is a nice 32 years old man who has a lot of friends. But he avoids helping his friends if they get injured. This is because whenever he sees blood, he gets such a tremendous fear that he simply faints. He avoids blood tests himself and does not accompany family members or friends to path labs.

B.L. is 50 years old. But his superstitious fears dominate his life and restrict his work and enjoyment. “If I make the fourth phone call of the day to any person, then that person may suffer from some calamity. If I wear a black shirt, something bad will happen to me. If I get an ‘ungodly’ thought while doing religious rituals, God will punish me.” And so on.


The second target for removing the fear is the emotion of fear itself. ‘Calming the emotions’ is very specific skill that can be learnt with practice. Suppose, you very anxious now. The goal should be become calm in the next few minutes. There are many relaxation techniques that can be learnt and practiced for this purpose

There are many students who have such a tremendous fear of faring poorly in exams, that the fear actually disturbs their studies. The fear of making a silly mistake on stage and the subsequent possible ridicule, prevent many people from going on stage.

What can be done to overcome such fears? How to prevent such phobias from dampening the happiness and performance? If we understand the fears and phobias, we can deal with them better.

All such ‘fears of different things’ have two components: [1] the emotion of fear [2] the belief that there is something terrible. We need to change both these parts if we want to successfully remove the fear.

The belief that ‘something terrible is going to happen’ is the starting point of all such fears. In the examples mentioned above, there are such beliefs. ‘Blood flowing from a wound is a TERRIBLE event’ is the belief. The INTENSE fear is the emotion attached to it. ‘If people laugh at my possible mistake on stage, it is a TERRIBLE event’ is the belief. The INTENSE fear is the emotion attached to it. So we need to attack both these aspects.

The first thing to do is to examine whether the fear is realistic or unrealistic. For example, if you watch a horror movie that shows ghosts and then you start feeling afraid of sleeping in your bed at night, it is an unrealistic fear. If some of your family members have had heart problems and then you get the fear of getting a heart attack, it is a realistic fear. However, if you have got your heart thoroughly checked and the doctor says that the heart is absolutely fine and yet you have fear of getting a heart attack, then it is an unrealistic fear.

The way to tackle the unrealistic fear is to kick it out of the mind. Thinking and brooding about it, serves no purpose. The mind has a tendency to keep replaying emotional thoughts. So getting rid of unwanted, unrealistic beliefs may not be very simple. But, you may have to play a ‘table tennis’ match: you get rid of the thought > it is replayed again after some time > again you remove it from the mind and so on. Eventually you will surely succeed.

The way to tackle realistic fears is to take appropriate precautions. Suppose, you have the fear of getting cancer. Then take steps: avoid cancer-causing things such as tobacco, get yourself checked to see if you have cancer and then follow a healthy lifestyle. Many times I find people who have tremendous fears (such as this), but do not take any steps. Then they continue to languish in their fear.

Sometimes, the situation is realistic, but it is ‘terribalised’ by the intense emotion! For example, consider the ‘fear of doing poorly in exams’. If a student, who has not studied well, gets this fear, it can be considered realistic! But if the student says that doing poorly in an exam is a TERRIBLE event and if s/he thinks of suicide, then it is ‘terribalisation’ in action. It is an unrealistic assessment of a realistic situation – leading to intense fear.

The rational way of thinking about such a situation is: “Ok, so, this an unpleasant possibility. But even if I fare poorly, it is not the end of the world. First, I will put in the best possible efforts now. And, even if the result is not good, I can try again. Or there are so many alternative options that can be tried.”

The second target for removing the fear is the emotion of fear itself. ‘Calming the emotions’ is very specific skill that can be learnt with practice. Suppose, you very anxious now. The goal should be become calm in the next few minutes. There are many Relaxation Techniques that can be learnt and practised for this purpose.

 So, fear is useful if it motivates you into action. But if it only demoralises you, it is time to get rid of it.