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Orlando Therapist: “How Facing Your Fears Can Help You Gain Control Over Your Anxiety”

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”.

To most of us, that sounds counterintuitive. Why would we do the very thing that makes us anxious? Wouldn’t it be better not to do it, so we can avoid feeling those dreaded feelings of anxiety and the uncomfortable physical symptoms that go along with it: the racing heart, sweaty palms, that queasy stomach? In actuality, Eleanor Roosevelt was right. In order to become less anxious, we must do what makes us anxious.

Most of us have things that we fear and give us anxiety. Maybe it’s giving a speech in front of a group of people, driving on a busy highway, riding on an elevator, or petting a dog. At some point in our life, most of us will experience public humiliation, be in a car accident, have an encounter with a vicious dog and have a scary elevator ride. Yet not all of us will develop an anxiety disorder. Most likely, we will have an increase in anxiety and distress that is temporary. For example, shortly after being bitten by a dog, we may feel a sense of apprehension the next time we walk outside, watch carefully for loose dogs and even avoid walking on the street where the dog bit us. Assuming that we continue to go on our walks without experiencing another dog bite, the attentional, emotional and behavioral changes we were making shortly after we were bitten, would likely fade away and our apprehension would quite naturally self-correct.   Before too long, we would once again feel quite safe while we are out walking, as we did before the dog bite.

Now let’s consider the scenario of a person who develops a phobia of dogs after being bitten. How did the same event that had little effect on someone else result in a severe and debilitating anxiety disorder in another person, who required treatment for a phobia? To begin with, this person interpreted the dog bite as a sign that all dogs and places he walks are inherently dangerous. Rather than viewing the incident as a context-specific stroke of bad luck, the individual believed that walking outside was unsafe because the streets were filled with dogs that would bite him at first sight. Not surprisingly, this person avoided going on walks, being outside or going to anyone’s home where he might encounter a dog. His fears gradually worsened to the point he had a difficult time leaving his house.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) considers these issues to be the product of dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behavior. The above individuals belief that all dogs are dangerous led him to feel anxious whenever he was anywhere he might encounter a dog. He overestimated the likelihood of getting bit again, exaggerated the probability that a dog would bite him and catastrophized about the unendurable pain he would suffer if he would get bitten again. He managed his anxiety by avoiding the outdoors, fleeing whenever he saw a dog and checking for the possibility of encountering a dog whenever he ventured anywhere. Because of these dysfunctional thinking patterns, his fear of dogs persisted even though he was never bitten by a dog again.

Now if our hypothetical person would have heeded Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice and had done one thing every day that scares him, he may not have developed a phobia. In response to his intense anxious feelings, the person with the dog phobia avoided all contact with dogs, as well as situations in which he perceived an increased chance of encountering a dog. This avoidance is what prevented the natural habituation and extinction of both the cognitive and physiological components of his fear reaction. Because he never stays in the same room with his friend’s dog, he never learns that the dog is much more likely to lick him than to bite him.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our counselors and therapists utilize proven methods of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help you face your fears in a gradual, systematic way. After a while, you will find that the situations and things that make you feel most anxious will begin lose their power over you and you will again be able to live your life more fully.



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