Coping with Phobia-Related Anxiety

Coping With Phobia Related Anxiety

My heart was racing, I had difficulty breathing, and a feeling of uncontrollable panic consumed me. I was having an anxiety attack.

I was in my car parked outside of the lab with a requisition from my doctor for blood work. Today was the day. I was finally going to have my baseline blood-work done. My doctor had been telling me for years that it needed to be done. “In case you get ill in the future, we need a baseline for comparison,” she explained. I was forty-one years old.

I sat there for a full ten minutes before finally driving off. Apparently, today was not the day.

The Mayo Clinic in the United States defines a phobia as “an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance.” I can relate to that. My phobia was needles and blood. And I had had it for over ten years.

Although there are still many questions about the causes of phobias, these factors may increase your risk:

  • Your age;
  • Your temperament;
  • Your family history;
  • A traumatic event.

My particular phobia was caused by a traumatic event. I had never liked the idea of needles, but it became a phobia when a friend suffering from depression attempted self-harm while I was in the other room. At the time, I passed out; the long-term effect was a debilitating phobia that, when triggered, caused a severe anxiety attack.

I then developed associations connected with my phobia. I was at the movies with a friend – she had chosen the movie. During the movie, mood music and lighting hinted that things were not going to end well for the main character. Half-way through the movie he committed suicide. I passed out.

From then on I was unable to sit in a theatre unless the movie was light and cheerful. I screened all movie selections. I had to be sure there was no dark mood music hinting at impending doom. That alone could set me off.

So, going for blood work was out of the question. Years went by and I did nothing about it; but as I got older, I realized that my doctor was right. The likelihood that I would need to have blood work or some procedure done was increasing. I decided to go to a counsellor specializing in phobias.

I was about 37 years old. He had me go through the scene of what caused the phobia. It caused a panic attack. I refused to go on and left the office. I never went back.

I was 39 when my mother died of cancer. My siblings and I had spent three months caring for her in her home. My body was a mess. I started seeing a naturopath to help deal with the stress. I also started seeing a psychiatrist. She had been referred by a friend and I was assured that she was not your typical “here’s your drugs” kind of psychiatrist.

And she wasn’t. She helped me process my feelings. I decided to try the phobia thing with her. She had me go through the series of events that had caused the phobia. I passed out. I’m not sure which one of us was more disturbed by it; but we never talked about it again.

Another two years went by. Meanwhile, I had developed a high-level of trust in my naturopath. He was helping get my body back in balance. He also cured me of my vertigo when no one else could. I had been suffering with vertigo on and off since I was 38. I had been through every test and seen every specialist. The only solution had been drugs, which only masked the vertigo and left me feeling ….well, like I had been drugged. My naturopath told me my kidney chi was out and gave me herbs (no nasty side-effects). My vertigo was gone.

I decided to talk to him about my phobia and anxiety attacks, and my failed attempts to overcome it. He asked if I’d ever heard of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I had not. He explained that it was a method of retraining the brain – changing the thought patterns. And, I would not need to revisit the event that had caused the original phobia. Best news ever.

We started weekly NLP sessions – it’s hard to describe, but basically it entails tapping the brain area and replacing negative thought patterns with positive thought patterns. After seven sessions of NLP I took the requisition for blood work to the lab. This time I went in. Did I love it? No, but the fact that I did it is a miracle.

Two years later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to undergo a number of procedures that involved blood work, IVs, etc. If I had not dealt with my phobia, the stress of those tests would have tipped me over the edge.

There is hope. We just need to find the solution that works best for each of us.

This article first appeared on the website http://www.anxietyrevealed.com and is reprinted here with full permission. Anxiety Revealed can be found on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Listly.


About the Author: Kathleen Butler

Kathleen Butler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and is an Accredited Business Communicator through the International Association of Business Communicators. She has over 20 years of strategic communications and was most recently the Director of Corporate Communications for a large health authority in western Canada. Kathleen has also completed the Prosci Change Management Certification Program. On a personal level, she is a Reiki Master and has certificates in Pranic Healing Levels I and II, as well as Pranic Healing with Crystals Level I.

5 Comments

Christine

Hello,

I read with great interest Karen Butler’s article “Coping With Phobia-Related Anxiety.” I have been trying to find a Nateropath in Michigan that does Neuro Linguistic Programming, but haven’t had any luck. Can you offer any suggestions? Thank you!

Reply
Karen S

Thank you so much Karen Young. I feel better knowing you see my dilemma. I do have to be in contact with her as she is in my apartment complex and does go outside often with her cat. If she approaches I smile. I realize if I speak she goes into a frenzy of angry words, so I walk on. I think I have my mind made up now to not even acknowledge her at all. If she becomes physically aggressive I will call the police. Thank you for verifying what type of person her actions show she is and how to deal with it.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

You are so welcome. Your plan sounds like a good one. Nobody should have to endure what this woman is putting you through, and I hope that when she realises that she is not going to get what she wants from you that she will move on and leave you alone. Stand strong and know that her verbal attacks and intimidation are completely unacceptable on any terms. I wish you all the very best and hope that you are able to feel safe and free from her awful behaviour very soon.

Reply
Karen

I have had Anxiety distress half of my life at least. I have been on medication for it for years. I do not look as though I have such a problem. I appear to be intellectual, writing poems and stories. However, my suffering goes deep. Because I tend to be friendly and laid back, not wanting to be hard to deal with I seem to attract the opposite kind of people.
Several years of my life I had a long standing friendship with a friend who tried to dominate me. She used anger and harsh words to try to control me and put much emphasis on trying to reform me to her way of doing things. Always, I felt smothered by her bossiness. I finally broke free, realizing she was a narcissistic bully!
I experienced the feeling of freedom, it felt so good! However, my nerves were shattered. I had to seek medical help to get past it. More medication was all I got. I somehow got better, more determined to not let it happen again!
BUT IT DID!
In this past year, I had a stress related stroke! During that time a religious minded neighbor asked if she could be of help to me, knowing I had the stroke. She seemed nice and would do errands for me during my recovery time. I always paid her for helping me, such as paying for anything she brought to me and giving things to her she liked for her home.
We emailed each other every day. We seemed to find things in common. One day she began asking me personal questions. I told her about my medications and about the trama I’d had with the former friend and how anxious it made me feel.
From that day forward, she began calling me Big Baby, oh boohoo. Then came other words and put downs.
I defended myself and asked her to please not add to my anxiety by saying these things.
She then said I was just self concerned and began to treat me worse. I saw she treated other people with contempt and other neighbors said she was unpleasant to them.
Finally, I saw the light, she was just like my former friend only very mean. I learned she had been in trouble with the law for her aggressiveness.
I try to avoid her now but she stalkers me so she can scream mean accusations at me. She will wait for me to come outside. If I say anything in my defense she leaves in anger!
I am not recovering well this time, and worry about another stroke. I am a senior citizen and am getting more ill by the day.
Can you help me? My minister said, “Oh, just forget her, no big deal!” But considering my mental health it is a big deal and is making me very anxious and worried. She has been known to physically attack, but then I could get the law involved. I am more upset about the constant stalking and violent speech. Please, please someone reply.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

This sounds like a really distressing thing for you to be going through. I completely understand why you feel the way you do. She is compromising your mental health, your feelings of safety and your physical well-being – this is a big deal. This woman sounds very toxic, and every time you respond, she feels as though she has had a little win. If she is stalking you and verbally assaulting you and putting your health at risk, it may be appropriate to speak to the police to ask their advice as to what action you might be able to take to protect yourself from her. The other option is to ignore her. It is likely that she will get worse before she gets better, and then she will stop. It’s very normal for toxic people to do more of what works (their toxic behaviour) when it stops getting the response that helps them feel as though they have control over your emotional response. Your response is completely understandable and completely valid. I wish you all the very best and hope that you are able to find relief from her awful ways soon.

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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