Expose Yourself To Your Fears And Conquer Them

Posted by on Aug 26, 2015 in Anxiety | 0 comments

Expose Yourself To Your Fears And Conquer Them

(As Seen In Anton Publications August 12 – 18, 2015)

As they entered the creepy forest Dorothy Gale, in The Wizard of Oz, asked the Tin Man nervously: “Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?”phobias01 He replied sagely, “… mostly lions, tigers and bears.” Now, if Dorothy were in genuine danger of being savagely mauled and torn to shreds by razor sharp claws and pointy fangs it might be appropriate for her to be quaking in her ruby slippers. But what if the woods were actually only comprised of a bunch of trees and perhaps a cowardly lion? Some of us might feel content never choosing to find out if the danger is real or not and that’s ok. Others may feel that fears like this negatively impacts their life. If you find yourself feeling like the latter, you may want to confront and conquer your fears.

Exposure Therapy has been shown to be the most effective anxiety treatment for people with many anxiety disorders. While it involves practicing with what you fear, in order to become less afraid, it is not simply about “getting used to” the fear. It’s about retraining your brain to stop sending the fear signal when there isn’t any actual danger. People struggle against anxiety attacks and phobias because they recognize that their fears are exaggerated and illogical. They try hard to talk themselves out of the fear. When they realize that doesn’t help, they try to avoid what they fear which only intensifies it.

phobias04The amygdala is the part of our brain responsible for fight or flight decisions. The amygdala works quickly because speed is vital in protecting you against threats. The intellectual area of our brain, the cerebral cortex, may be well suited for speechwriting and philosophy but is not fast enough to keep us safe from danger. By the time your cerebral cortex processed your circumstances you would be lion, tiger or bear food. Contrarily, your amygdala’s response would be so swift that you would only become aware of it once you felt its effects in your body (panic sensations) and in your behavior (duck, run, escape). Your amygdala doesn’t care how many times it scares you unnecessarily. It just aims to keep you alive. Therefore, if you experience phobias and anxiety attacks, and want to overcome them, it is the amygdala you need to reprogram.

The amygdala learns by association. It may associate, heights, enclosed spaces and wild animals with danger. It doesn’t learn by conscious thought, which is why you can’t simply talk yourself out of a phobia. The fear memory is stored as a conditioned fear and can only be diminished by more conditioning, not logic or reason. Since your amygdala only learns when it spots something it considers dangerous, it can only learn new lessons when you are afraid. Therefore, if you stay away from what you fear your amygdala will continue to mistakenly associate danger with those possibly benign fears and will never have the opportunity to learn something new.

Your amygdala only learns from experience. If you run away from your fears, you are teaching your amygdala that you should avoid your fears to be safe. To teach your amygdala something new you have to expose yourself to a trigger that gets you afraid. If that trigger is heights, find a lofty place. Then stay with your fear until the fear begins to diminish. You will be teaching your amygdala that it had gotten you all worked up for no reason. It can learn that enclosed places aren’t the danger it had been conditioned to believe. With time and repetition, which is referred to as systematic desensitization, it will develop a new conditioning that lets you get on with your life unencumbered by this phobia or anxiety attack.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.