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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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