Dr Jozelle Miller
January 9, 2018
Phobia self-help tip 2: Learn to calm down quickly

(Continued from December 19)

When you’re afraid or anxious, you experience a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as a racing heart and a suffocating feeling. These physical sensations can be frightening themselves – and a large part of what makes your phobia so distressing. However, by learning how to calm yourself down quickly, you can become more confident in your ability to tolerate uncomfortable sensations and face your fears.

A simple deep breathing exercise:

When you’re anxious, you tend to take quick, shallow breaths (also known as hyperventilating), which actually adds to the physical feelings of anxiety. By breathing deeply from the abdomen, you can reverse these physical sensations. You can’t be upset when you’re breathing slowly, deeply, and quietly. Within a few short minutes of deep breathing, you’ll feel less tense, short of breath, and anxious. You don’t need to feel anxious to practise this technique. In fact, it’s best to practise when you’re feeling calm, until you’re familiar and comfortable with the exercise.

Sit or stand comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.

Take a slow breath in through your nose, counting to four. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.

Hold your breath for a count of seven.

Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight, pushing out as much air as you can, while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.

Inhale again, repeating the cycle until you feel relaxed and centered.

Practice this deep breathing technique for five minutes, twice a day. Once you’re comfortable with technique, you can start to use it when you’re facing your phobia or in other stressful situations.

Use your senses:

One of the quickest and most reliable ways to relieve anxiety is by engaging one or more of your senses – sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. But since everyone is different, you’ll need to do some experimenting to discover what works best for you.

Movement – Go for a walk, jump up and down, or gently stretch. Dancing, drumming, and running can be especially effective at relieving anxiety.

Sight – Look at anything that relaxes you or makes you smile: a beautiful view, family photos, cat pictures on the Internet.

Sound – Listen to soothing music, sing a favourite tune, or play a musical instrument; or enjoy the relaxing sounds of nature (either live or recorded): ocean waves, wind through the trees, birds singing.

Smell – Light scented candles. Smell the flowers in a garden. Breathe in the clean, fresh air. Spray on your favourite perfume.

Taste – Slowly eat a favourite treat, savouring each bite. Sip a hot cup of coffee or herbal tea. Chew on a stick of gum. Enjoy a mint or your favourite hard candy.

Touch – Give yourself a hand or neck massage. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket. Sit outside in the cool breeze.

Phobia self-help tip 3: Challenge negative thoughts

Learning to challenge unhelpful thoughts is an important step in overcoming your phobia. When you have a phobia, you tend to overestimate how bad it will be if you’re exposed to the situation you fear. At the same time, you underestimate your ability to cope.

The anxious thoughts that trigger and fuel phobias are usually negative and unrealistic. It can help to put these thoughts to the test. Begin by writing down any negative thoughts you have when confronted with your phobia. Many times, these thoughts fall into the following categories:

Fortune telling: For example, “This bridge is going to collapse;” “I’ll make a fool of myself for sure;” “I will definitely lose it when the elevator doors close.”

Overgeneralization: “I fainted once while getting a shot. I’ll never be able to get a shot again without passing out;” “That pit bull lunged at me. All dogs are dangerous.”

Catastrophizing: “The captain said we’re going through turbulence. The plane is going to crash!” “The person next to me coughed. Maybe it’s the swine flu. I’m going to get very sick!”

Once you’ve identified your negative thoughts, evaluate them. Figure out whether there is any evidence to your claims; could you do anything to resolve this situation if it does occur? Are you making a thinking error? What would you say to someone else who had the same exact fear?

While you challenge your existing thoughts, it is also helpful to come up with some positive coping statements that you can tell yourself when facing your phobia.

References: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: October 2017