what is behind fears and phobias?
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, three-time award winning psychotherapist, helps Ricki Lake’s guests overcome their fears of dogs, heights, and flying on the “Facing Your Fear” episode airing Friday, April 5 (check your local listings).
The author of "Emotional Fitness at Work 6 Strategic Steps to Success Using the Power of Emotion" and "100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence – Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too" explains the nature of fears and phobias.
There are a several different levels at which fear can manifest. For some, fear isn’t a big issue; they have the occasional worry and seem to be able to shut it off. For others, feelings of impending doom and anxiety become overwhelming.
Fear is a natural emotion that keeps us safe in dangerous situations. It releases adrenaline and other chemicals into the brain and body that prepare us to flee or to fight. This response came in rather handy in prehistoric days, when we had to outrun a saber-toothed tiger. Unfortunately, in modern times, it can stop us from experiencing and enjoying life.
Some fears manifest as phobias. These are powerful compulsions that make people very nervous about certain situations or things. A fear of heights might make you hold tightly to the handrails of an elevator as it rises to the top of the Eiffel Tower. If you have a phobic response to heights, however, you may experience powerful feelings of avoidance and panic, which includes symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, and nausea. Some people may cry or get angry at the mere suggestion of going any place high.
Luckily, people who confront their phobias can overcome them. As with most emotional issues, it’s best to begin by talking about the problem. Talking will help you gain some perspective. For example, being afraid of heights is not irrational; it's perfectly natural. It is the overwhelming fear of falling, even though you are protected, that you must work through.
Having a phobia can drastically limit your life. I recently worked with 3 people on “The Ricki Lake Show” one with a fear of heights another with a fear of flying and a third with a fear of dogs. These phobias have kept them from attending many events, has made friendships difficult and has limited their lives to the point where they know they need and want to do something about it. This is a solid example of how fear can drastically limit our lives and our experiences.
Desensitization combined with relaxation works well in overcoming phobias. This is where you take lots of baby steps that gradually move you toward overcoming your fear. On the show, we started with a step stool, which wasn't a problem for her, and then we moved to a higher platform, where she worked through her tears and fears. Next, after some deep sharing and relaxation exercises, she climbed a ladder, and she culminated her day with a ride in a cherry picker. It was very scary for her, but this brave woman understood that she had let fear run her life, and she had decided that it was time to stop.
Examining how our fears hold us back is an important step in overcoming them. I promise you that working through a phobia will empower you in all areas of your life. Begin slowly and get as much support as you need. Once you face your fears, you will have changed your life forever.
For more information about Dr. Goldsmith, go to http://www.bartongoldsmith.com