Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

How to become more AWARE of your phobias!

By Natalie-Mai Holmes,

There's a difference between fear and a phobia, says Psychology Melbourne psychologist, Natalie-Mai Holmes, who has a particular interest in this area.

She points out that when we feel fear, we are experiencing our body's natural response to actual danger. It can stop us from doing risky things and prepares the body to defend itself.

A phobia, however, is an extreme or irrational fear of a situation or an object that, in reality, poses no real danger.

People with phobias will go to extreme lengths to avoid something that most people consider harmless.

Some of the more common phobias include:

  • Social phobias, for example fear of interacting with other people 
  • Situational phobias, e.g. fear of driving or being in a closed in place
  • Animal phobias such as fear of dogs or insects      
  • Environmental phobias like fear of storms or water.  

 Phobias can affect quality of life – anxiety and avoidance behaviours 

Phobias can have both long-lasting psychological and physical effects and can become so severe that they negatively impact a person’s quality of life.

People with phobias often realise that the fear is irrational but still can’t control their feelings.

When your imagination vividly exaggerates threats and dangers, the physical body instinctively responds to protect you from the catastrophes that you’ve imagined.

This fear can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and a range of avoidance behaviours which have a detrimental impact on a person’s daily life.

Using the AWARE model to help manage your phobias

The AWARE model provides five useful steps to help you manage the anxiety caused by phobias:

  1. Accept the emotion for what it is. Accept the present reality of experiencing an intense emotion and understand that  your nervous system is functioning normally and is responding to your imagined fears and dangers.
  2. Watch relief come to you as you become curious about your emotion and scale it into proportion. Rate your emotional intensity from 1-10 over time and notice how it peaks and then decreases.
  3. Act normally as though feeling better already. Notice you can gradually let go of unnecessary signs of anxiety knowing you have already gone through the two most important steps.
  4. Repeat the process of Accept, Watch and Act normally, if you notice another wave of fear or anxiety. Practise the steps each time a phobia arises until it becomes second nature to you as you become more confident and in control.
  5. Expect the best. See any setbacks as an opportunity to improve your resilience and coping skills.

For more information

Do you need some help managing a phobia? 

Contact Psychology Melbourne to arrange support in breaking the cycle of avoidance and change your relationship with anxiety.

About the author, Natalie-Mai Holmes

Natalie-Mai Holmes is a clinical psychologist who offers therapy for a broad range of issues including trauma, anxiety, interpersonal issues, panic, depression, and life transition and adjustment. Learn more about Natalie-Mai Holmes

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