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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Thanks so much @maggiedentauthor♥️…
“Karen Young - Hey Sigmund has such a wonderful way with words especially around anxiety. This is her latest beautiful picture book that explains anxiety through the lens of the Polyvagal theory using the metaphor of a house. This shows how sometimes anxiety can be hard to notice. I think this book can help kids and teens better understand stress and anxiety. I loved it! This would be great for homes, schools and in libraries.
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Of course we love them, no matter what - but they need to feel us loving them, no matter what. Especially when they are acting in unlovable ways, or saying unlovable things. Especially then.

This is not ‘rewarding bad behaviour’. To think this assumes that they want to behave badly. They don’t. What they want is to feel calm and safe again, but in that moment they don’t have the skills to do that themselves, so they need us to help them. 

It’s leading with love. It’s showing up, even when it’s hard. The more connected they feel to us, the more capacity we will have to lead them - back to calm, into better choices, towards claiming their space in the world kindly, respectfully, and with strength. 

This is not about dropping the boundary, but about holding it lovingly, ‘I can see you’re doing it tough right now. I’m right here. No, I won’t let you [name the boundary]. I’m right here. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get through this together.’

If you’re not sure what they need, ask them (when they are calm), ‘When you get upset/ angry/ anxious, what could I do that would help you feel loved and cared for in that moment? And this doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ situation. What can I do to make the no easier to handle? What do I do that makes it harder?’♥️
Believe them AND believe in them. 

‘Yes this is hard. I know how much you don’t want to do this. It feels big doesn’t it. And I know you can do big things, even when it feels like you can’t. How can I help?’

They won’t believe in themselves until we show them what they are capable of. For this, we’ll have to believe in their ‘can’ more than they believe in their ‘can’t’.♥️
Sometimes it feels as though how we feel directs what we do, but it also works the other way: What we do will direct how we feel. 

When we avoid, we feel more anxious, and a bigger need to avoid. But when we do brave - and it only needs to be a teeny brave step - we feel brave. The braver we do, the braver we feel, and the braver we do… This is how we build brave - with tiny, tiny uncertain steps. 

So, tell me how you feel. All feelings are okay to be there. Now tell me what you like to do if your brave felt a little bigger. What tiny step can we take towards that. Because that brave is always in you. Always. And when you take the first step, your brave will rise bigger to meet you.♥️
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#anxietyinkids #consciousparenting #parentingtips #gentleparent #parentinglife #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #heywarrior
If anxiety has had extra big teeth lately, I know how brutal this feels. I really do. Think of it as the invitation to strengthen your young ones against anxiety. It’s not the disappearance of brave, or the retreat of brave. It’s the invitation to build their brave.

This is because the strengthening against anxiety happens only with experience. When the experience is in front of you, it can feel like bloodshed. I know that. I really do. But this is when we fight for them and with them - to show them they can do this.

The need to support their avoidance can feel relentless. But as long as they are safe, we don’t need to hold them back. We’ll want to, and they’ll want us to, but we don’t need to. 

Handling the distress of anxiety IS the work. Anxiety isn’t the disruption to building brave, it’s the invitation to build brave. As their important adult who knows they are capable, strong, and brave, you are the one to help them do that.

The amygdala only learns from experience - for better or worse. So the more they avoid, the more the amygdala learns that the thing they are avoiding is ‘unsafe’, and it will continue to drive a big fight (anger, distress) or flight (avoidance) response. 

On the other hand, when they stay with the discomfort of anxiety - and they only need to stay with it for a little longer each time (tiny steps count as big steps with anxiety) - the amygdala learns that it’s okay to move forward. It’s safe enough.

This learning won’t happen quickly or easily though. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. This is part of the process of strengthening them against anxiety, not a disruption to it. 

As long as they are safe, their anxiety and the discomfort of that anxiety won’t hurt them. 
What’s important making sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. We can do this with validation, which shows our emotional availability. 

They also need to feel us holding the boundary, by not supporting their avoidance. This sends the message that we trust their capacity to handle this.

‘I know this feels big, and I know you can do this. What would feel brave right now?’♥️

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