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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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