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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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