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Scoop asked in Social SciencePsychology · 4 weeks ago

How do I stop being afraid of the dark?

I'm a 21 year old guy, but this is a recently developed phobia and I have a good reason for it.

I have narcolepsy & one of the symptoms of it is night time hallucinations. I grew up with them all of my life and if became normal for me to see/hear things; before my diagnosis I thought everyone else experienced that every night as well.

Since getting on medication to treat my narcolepsy I no longer have the hallucinations, and in an odd way that has made me afraid of the dark. It's become ingrained in my head that there's other creatures in the room (I know there aren't actually, but it's the mindset I'm used to & thinking that way has proven to be a near-impossible habit to break). The feeling things/people are in my room persists, but now I feel like I just can't see where they are, like they're hiding or waiting to jump out.

I know thinking this way is irrational, but irrational fear one can't control is the very definition of a phobia.

What can I do to fix this? I've been free of the hallucinations for 2 years now and the phobia still hasn't gone away; am I just doomed to always be a grown man afraid of the dark?

3 Answers

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  • 4 weeks ago
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    Of course, you can see a therapist about this, but many people prefer self-help for phobias. The reason is that a therapist's time is costly, and so the program is likely to proceed at a rate that's faster than what the client is comfortable with.

    Basically, therapy for phobias, explained in The Feeling Good Handbook by psychiatrist David Burns, is making a list of situations, ranking them according to how scary you find them, and using that ranked list as your objectives. Imagining a situation can be an objective. Start with something really, really easy.

    It's easy to write objectives with fear of the dark. All you need is a lamp with a dimmer switch. Or, you can adjust how much your bedroom door is open.

    The thing to remember is never go from objective A to objective B until you feel completely confident with A. Things that give you confidence are experience and slow breathing. There's enormous laboratory and clinical evidence that slow breathing is effective for calming people down quickly.

    Two psychiatrists, Brown and Gerbarg, say a 10 or 20 min slow breathing exercise - 5 breaths a min - is good and 20 min twice a day is a therapy for anxiety. The exercise is inhale and exhale gently, 6 seconds each.

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  • 4 weeks ago

    You need to build up your tolerance. Esentially you go from trigger (darkness) to reaction (panic) very quickly. We need to build up your capacity to be in the middle space between those for longer. It takes time and repetition. If you do it too infrequently, it might actually make it worse.

    What you need to work on, is recognizing what is going on inside when you tip into that panic state, so that eventually, you can see yourself from sort of a third person perspective and be like "oh, I just saw a shadow, my brain is likely to think that is a person, and I'll start to feel a tighness in my chest, etc" and when it happens you can go "see, there it is, just like I said." What this does is make it seem less like you are caught up in the flow of the river, and more like you are on top, and can steer your course some. In the begining you will have very little control, but you build that up. After repetition, it will begin to seem boring. "oh, there's the shadow thing again..." and you have distanced yourself more from impulse to reacting to that impulse. Building up that space, allows your rational brain to add context, and prevents your primitive brain from pushing you to fight/flight/freeze (where your rational prefrontal cortex is taken offline). Control your experiment. Be in a dark room with hand on light. Try to spend more and more time in the dark. And try to hold your awareness lightly as you simply observe your thoughts and feelings. Don't identify with them, but observe. Its the difference between "I am afraid right now," and "I am a human, who is noticing my breath become a little more rapid, oh and there is some clamminess..."

    The point is not to suffer through freakouts, so don't do that, but build up the space on the ramp up to freaking out. Make that curve longer.

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  • 4 weeks ago

    just get a nightlight :)

    • Scoop4 weeks agoReport

      I use one most nights, but I'd like to get rid of the fear itself if it all possible, thank you for the suggestion though!

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