As Halloween approaches, there’s something in the air that makes feeling a little bit afraid a little bit fun. Superstitions like strange behavior on a full moon, Friday the 13th bringing along with it ill will, or believing a black cat crossing your path causes bad luck, are just some the ideas the spooky imagery Halloween brings to life. But what if feeling afraid isn’t fun? What if it’s a day-to-day problem brought on by something most people aren’t afraid of? For individuals suffering from phobias, this feeling is startlingly real.
So, just what is a phobia? And more importantly what can we do about them? A phobia, also called an irrational fear, is defined as excessive, extreme, fear or panic reaction about a situation, living creature, place, or object. While phobias aren’t always connected to an underlying condition, they can be caused by traumatic events, substance abuse, or sometimes the environment in which we were raised. Let’s say your grandmother was terrified of thunderstorms (a condition known as astraphobia). If you spent time with her during summer storms as a kid, you may find yourself becoming a little bit panicked from the behavior you saw her displaying when you were young.
Phobias can often be connected to mental health conditions like Borderline Personality Disorder or Schizophrenia, but sometimes they stand alone. What results from a phobia is called avoidance behavior and it’s what can influence the life of someone with a phobia the most. If you are afraid of thunderstorms, you might cancel plans with a friend on a day when it could storm, even if your plans didn’t include going outside. Avoidance behavior keeps us from living a full, healthy life.
If you find yourself feeling uncharacteristically anxious about a certain situation or thing, remember that self-care is always important when it comes to our mental health. Try deep breathing exercises, avoid caffeine, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. When disruptive thoughts come, ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What else can I learn about this situation? What is it that bothers me so much? Challenging how you think can turn the situation inside out and allow you to see it from a different angle.
If a phobia is disrupting your ability to continue in your normal routine or is creating intense or disabling fear, consult your healthcare physician and be honest about how you’re feeling, no matter how silly you think it may seem. Because phobias, just like those Halloween monsters, can be faced and overcome.