“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” – The late, great Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa.
Got a crippling fear of flying which keeps you grounded? It’s been said that the recent Germanwings disaster has only exacerbated people’s flying phobias, despite the fact that apparent pilot murder-suicide is exceptionally rare.
But that’s the thing with fear, isn’t it? It’s like the stories we tell ourselves; nightmares which usually have very little chance of becoming our reality. In other words, a phobia, such as a fear of flying, aka aviophobia and aviatophobia, is an intense fear which is out of proportion to the actual danger.
But the lack of clear and present peril – the reality of a situation – often isn’t enough to soothe our ills when we’re paralysed by fear. One of my best friends has such a morbid fear of flying, it has, at times, impeded her ability to run an international marketing company. And so, on the rare occasion she does fly overseas, she has to drug herself up to the eyeballs with valium just to be able to board a plane, which is far from ideal.
For me, it’s a ridiculous fear of going to the dentist, aka odontophobia and dentophobia. I’ve skydived, hot-air ballooned and given birth to two large babies, but my dentistry fear is a real issue for me. I had painful braces as a child, so I don’t need a psych to tell me (although my mum is one, which sure comes in handy at times) that my dentist phobia stems from that and I associate dentistry with great displeasure and discomfort.
I really, really hate going to the dentist and break out in a cold sweat each and every time. In fact, it’s so bad that I haven’t been in years. Luckily for me, I have good, strong healthy teeth with very little cavities… Um, well not that I’d actually know. So, I’m off to the dentist for the first time in years in a few weeks and I may need some serious, free counselling from my mother to help me make the appointment!
What’s your phobia? They’re so common, many of us have at least one. Another popular fear is public speaking, aka glossophobia or speech anxiety. For my husband, it’s a fear of underground carparks; an inexplicable mix of claustrophobia and a fear of natural disasters.
Overcoming fears takes a great deal of courage, patience and plain hard work, say clinical psychologists. They advise that the first step in facing our fears is to identify specifically what it is that we are afraid of. For example, in the case of fear of flying, are we afraid that the plane will crash, or is it anxiety about being trapped in an enclosed space for a long period of time? And, as in my case of fear of going to the dentist, is it intense discomfort at lying on my back with my mouth wide open, i.e., loss of control? Or is it the fear of the pain that I may experience? I’d say it’s both – not to mention a fear of the excessive amount I’ll be billed!
Top psychs say that once we know exactly what we’re afraid of, we can start to address this using the following strategies:
Address your specific fears by challenging your troubling thoughts: For example, if you’re thinking that the plane will crash, remind yourself how rarely this occurs; do some research and find the statistics; remind yourself that you have a greater chance of having a car accident than being in a plane crash and inform yourself about the many safety features of modern planes.
Alternatively, if – like me – you’re worried that the discomfort of dental work will be too great and that you won’t be able to bear it, you can plan to talk to your dentist about sedation, for pain-free dentistry is just about possible these days. Happy days!
Think of a comforting mantra you can use to reassure yourself: Use this mantra to calm yourself and repeat it when feeling afraid. Try something such as: “It’s absolutely fine, plane travel is very safe, millions of people travel by plane every week and they arrive safely.”
Use relaxation strategies such as slow deep breathing: Find a technique that works for you, such as muscle relaxation, visualisation of a pleasant place where you feel safe and happy and distracting yourself by listening to music or reading. Try to build up a repertoire of tools which help you to relax.
However, if you’re still struggling, these strategies aren’t effective in alleviating your fears and if a specific phobia is impacting on your quality of life, you might want to consider seeking professional help, such as counselling, to address those fears. There’s no harm in it – only in not facing your fears.
What do you think? What fear do you suffer from?
Images via makeupandbeauty.com, deltadentalazblog.com and brynblankinship.com