If I know my fears are irrational, why am I still terrified of them?
I have a germaphobia fear and it’s directly related to my fear of dying and I put all these unrealistic situations in my head , and I know I’m being ridiculous but I still can’t stop being terrified, what do I do? I’m taking Prozac but I understand it takes awhile to fully kick in
- RWPossumLv 72 years agoFavorite Answer
I looked at your other questions, and it seems to me that your problems call for more than one of these answers, but I can tell you things about phobias that you might find useful. You could talk about them with a therapist.
Let's say a man avoids cats because he was scratched by a cat when he was a baby. He's a grown man, but whenever he sees a cat, he gets nervous. His heart beats fast. He breaks out in a sweat. If you ask him about this, he might make up an excuse, but if he's honest he'll say, "I'm afraid of cats."
But is he really afraid of cats, considering that he knows perfectly well that cats won't harm him? We might say that what the man is afraid of is his emotion. He learned to have this emotion - fear - as a baby. He hates having it when he sees a cat.
We could also say that he hates physical signs of fear - fast heartbeat and sweat.
Phobias are treated with desensitization - making the person less and less sensitive to what's feared. Someone who's afraid of the dark can overcome this by going to bed with a lamp that has a dimmer switch in the bedroom, making the light just a little bit dimmer from night to night until finally there's no light at all. That's progressive desensitization. You can read about this in The Feeling Good Handbook by Dr. David Burns.
Less sensitive to *what's feared* - that's an important point. One of the treatments for panic attacks is teaching the person not to be afraid of panic symptoms. It's called interoceptive exposure. Fast heartbeat is a symptom. Someone can learn not to fear it with aerobic exercise.
If you think about your fear symptoms, you can see that these are nothing but your system's natural responses to something that seems threatening. You're not afraid of fast heartbeat when you run. In fact, a lot of people pay money for fear - roller coaster rides and horror movies. A lot of actors say they love the excitement (fear) of opening night in the theater.
There's another way that people with panic attacks can deal with their symptoms. Whenever a person gets scared, there's always a set of physical responses - fast heartbeat, etc. One of the responses is a change in breathing. It's impossible for us to take control of any autonomic nervous system response except one - breathing, and by controlling your breathing you can "hack the system."
The way you breathe affects heartbeat, etc., and your emotion. When all those nervous system responses are saying you're OK, you CAN'T be afraid.
Of all the traditional mind-body practices (meditation, etc.), the one with the best evidence for affecting mood disorders is yoga breathing. Slow breathing is used for treating anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and PTSD. It's safe and it doesn't take any training. You can find out about the work of psychiatrists Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg and PTSD therapist Emma Seppala in my recent answers, like this one.
DBT, the best treatment for borderline personality disorder, recommends paced breathing in moments of crisis - breathe gently while counting seconds - inhale to a count of 5, exhale to a count of 7.
I just said that a kind of exposure is used for panic attacks. One of the ways people learn to deal with unpleasant things is exposure by way of imagination.
Suppose the man who's afraid of cats were to practice the Brown-Gerbarg breathing exercise for 10 or 20 minutes, then close his eyes and imagine a cat. The thought of the cat wouldn't be so unpleasant. In fact, he could try this different ways, starting with a relaxation session in which he imagines a cat 10 feet away, then a cat next to him, then himself patting the cat.
Of course, when the man saw the cat in real life, he could simply slow his breathing.
These ideas are useful in treating phobias. You might be able to get some use out of them now. Even so, it seems to me that you should get help from a mental health professional.
One reason I say this is the fear of death you complain of. This is more complicated.
I'll say this about the fear of death. You might want to give it some thought. People often say that learning about near-death experience research has helped them. What we know for sure about the NDE is this - it's very common, it has some strikingly common features, and people who have had the NDE invariably say that they no longer fear death. That alone is good news.
- Serene ELv 72 years ago
See a metnal health professional