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Depression & Stress
Conquering Fears & Phobias

Everyone experiences fear at times in our life. It is a natural and healthy response in certain situations. It is not unusual to experience a fear reaction when your three-year old runs into a busy street. However, when you feel fearful and there doesn’t seem to be a logical and immediate reason to be afraid, you may have a phobia.

Phobias are fears that are out of proportion to the situation or object one is frightened of. Phobic symptoms include heart palpitations, difficulty in breathing, rapid breathing or choking, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, shaking, shuddering, sweating, dizziness, insomnia, and increased sensitivity to sounds and light.

Phobias can include fear of crossing bridges, riding elevators, standing on the edge of a high place, fear of flying, or fear of snakes, even fear of public speaking. People with phobias do not imagine that they are afraid; they are afraid. Physiologically, there is no way to distinguish between someone panicking on an elevator and someone watching his car spin out of control on “black ice.” The phobic learns to control his fears by avoiding the object or situation causing his irrational fear.

The worst situation of all is to suffer panic attacks that occur spontaneously, erratically, in no particular place or situation – because then, of course, there is nothing specific to avoid. That is the origin of the worst phobia of all, agoraphobia. The person suffering from agoraphobia fear the panic attack itself – or more accurately, having one in a public place, away from the security of their homes and families. Anticipating the fear can confine the person to their home for years.

The National Institute of Mental Health has found that about one adult in twenty suffers from agoraphobia, and that one adult in nine harbors some kind of phobia, making phobias this country’s second most common mental health problem, behind alcoholism.

In spite of these statistics, phobias are relatively easy to treat. Lengthy therapy delving into the origin of the fear response is often unnecessary. And there seems little correlation between phobias and personality or personal history. Well-adjusted adults with happy childhoods are as likely to develop phobias, as are people with a history of abusive parents, broken homes, drug abuse or learning problems.

Specifically, therapies that focus on treating the symptoms are the most effective. Deep relaxation, systematic desensitization and “flooding” are all behavioral techniques that have proven remarkably effective with phobias. A promising new therapy, called “Eye Movement Desensitization,” is showing rapid cure also.

It is not bad to have fears. But when those fears become phobias and they begin to interfere in your work, your social life, and your health, it is important to recognize that you need help. Taking the mystery out of one’s fears is 50 percent of the battle. Seeking the help of a qualified and trained therapist can eliminate the mystery and dissolve the fear.

Where to Call Next for Help

Dr. Kathy Marshack can help you. She is accepting new clients and has a convenient office location. If you live in the Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, Washington area (or can drive to this location) please call to set up your first appointment. See Therapy FAQs for more information. Please give us a call at (503) 222-6678 or (360) 256-0448 or email us at info@kmarshack.com.