ON CONQUERING FEARS

 Matthew is a successful accountant whose firm moved to the sixty-eighth floor of the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Empire State Building. He became so frightened while moving that he resigned ("Acrophobia"-- fear of heights). <?xml:namespace prefix = o />
 Estelle a fifty-three year-old housewife, stays alone in her house most of the time. Her children are married. Bill, her estranged husband, has two weeks remaining until he retires from Union Carbide. Then, he will be home constantly. Estelle feels dependent, trapped in a relation- ship she fears, and is powerless to change. The thought of going out even to the mailbox by herself can cause panic ("Agoraphobia"--fear of being alone in unfamiliar places).
 Phyllis works as a private secretary for a corporate attorney. She carries her coat with her all day rather than entering the walk-in closet to hang it up ("Claustro- phobia"--fear of entering close or crowded places).
 Jenny and Lewis are deathly afraid of snakes. They were recently married. One wedding gift was an expensive set of luggage with binding straps made of reptilian leather. Jenny and Lewis left for their honeymoon with a garment hanger and four plastic bags containing accessories.
 Our fears consist of a wide range of events and places in our environment, to which anxiety reactions have become conditioned. This occurs through a learning process comprised of direct and indirect experiences. Perhaps you were once accidentally locked in a room or closet; maybe you were terribly frightened while riding a roller coaster or high-speed elevator; or perhaps you have felt trapped in an interpersonal situation you could not resolve because of your fear of separating from a parent or spouse. Furthermore, you may have indirectly associated anxiety with certain events through exposure to TV, newspapers and books. For example, one person who appeared claustrophobic had been terrified at reading that a young child accidentally locked himself inside a refrigerator and suffocated!
 Laden with anxieties and ruminations over the future, fearful individuals invest considerable effort in making "avoidance responses"-- keeping away from elevators, closets, stores, dogs, snakes, other people and anything else about which they have fearful experiences. While at first blush this seems the logical thing to do, avoidance responding is not highly recommended. Avoiding may seem desirable because it turns-off the anxiety state. However, by preventing confrontation with the fearful event, avoidance actually perpetuates the fear! Moreover, it can make living your life pretty exasperating. Imagine, for example, walking up twenty flights of stairs each day because you are afraid of elevators. Thus, the very methods which you use to control your fears may be controlling you! You may be a prisoner of the situation you deny.
 Some individuals have learned their fears so well that professional assistance is required to "unlearn" them. A rather short-term and successful treatment allows someone to gain new perspective on a fearful "scene" by altering the structure (sights, sounds and feelings) that are experienced; and by teaching him (her) to produce responses which inhibit anxiety. The connection between the fearful event and its anxiety reaction is weakened. Perhaps for many of you, fearful events are not seriously debilitating and don't require professional help: They don't completely control your lives, but simply produce unwanted tension and annoyance. You become "uptight" as anxious feelings fester inside. Learn to cope with these fears and alleviate some of the anxiety by identifying them more precisely. Ask yourself:


  • (1) What specific situations seem to give rise to your fears?

  • (2) How do they occur? Are you constantly "rehearsing" the future, ruminating about an upcoming event because it frightens you? Do you have repetitive thoughts about a situation or place such as driving in snow, being in a crowded elevator; or a recollection about a past traumatic experience? Or do you simply avoid places deemed fearful at various times (like the basement at night, courtesy of "Freddie Kruger")?

T  Think of a time when you have been remarkably calm and relaxed. Allow yourself to rejoin th at experience by breathing slowly and deeply, letting go of all tension. Now while holding th at state of consciousness, imagine seeing yourself in a fearful situation...in the
di distance...in black and white. Practice this often. It’s a beginning. Then try taking it with
o   you,  probing and confronting your fears, until you are their master.