“That which you think you cannot do, you MUST do.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
“Is your mom going on the ropes course?” I heard my daughter’s friend ask. I could feel beads of sweat forming. “Ohhhhh, nooooo,” I thought. “Nope, I don’t like heights, definitely not the plan.” Her friend said, “My mom would never do that. She’s too old.” My head snapped up. Wait! What did she say?!?! My daughter (who is awesome) said, “Well, my mom’s not old.” And there it was. I was going to conquer the ropes course… or die trying! It was indeed harrowing, but I nailed it.
Like many people, I have a fear of heights (acrophobia). Fear is normal, even helpful in potentially dangerous situations. Fear activates our “fight or flight” response systems. It’s an adaptive response whose purpose is to keep us safe. That must be the reason I never wanted to skydive. I mean, seriously, why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?! But I digress. Fears, like anything else, only become a problem when they impede the enjoyment of new experiences, or even your daily life.
Fear can be non-specific or situational. But when a fear is associated with a specific object, class of objects, or situation, and is so intense as to be overwhelming, that is referred to as a phobia. Phobias are subjective, and their consequent reactions vary from person to person. Mild reactions include avoidance, mild anxiety, rapid heart rate and perspiration. At the other extreme, phobias can be so traumatic as to cause emotional meltdowns, panic attacks and emotional paralysis (shut down). Although the object of fear itself poses little or no actual threat to the individual, it is perceived as a very real danger.
There may come a time when you find your fears are limiting or prohibitive and you are missing out. The good news is that you are never too old to face your fears. The first thing to do is identify your phobia(s). Here are a few…
Phobia Is the fear of…
Ablutophobia bathing, washing, or cleaning
Agoraphobia open places
Aibohphobia palindromes; words, phrases, numbers or other sequence of
characters which can be read the same backward or forward
Anthropophobia people or the company of people, a form of social phobia
Claustrophobia small spaces
Cleithrophobia being trapped
Dentophobia dentists and dental procedures
Glossophobia speaking in public
Heliophobia the sun or sunlight (aka vampire madness)
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia the number 666
Lipophobia fats in food
Mysophobia germs, contamination or dirt (aka germophobic)
Nomophobia being out of mobile phone contact
Spectrophobia reflection and mirrors
Telephobia making or taking telephone calls
Triskaidekaphobia the number 13
Trypanophobia needles or injections
Xenophobia strangers, foreigners, or aliens
These are just some of literally hundreds of phobias. You probably recognized many and identified with a few. Most everyone is afraid of something in varying degrees. And although they are common, most will not cause distress or disrupt your everyday life. For example, if you are afraid of insects (entomophobia), you’re in luck! Most insects are dormant in the wintertime. Are you afraid of needles (trypanophobia) or the dentists (dentophobia)? Most people only see them once or twice a year. In that case, your phobias may not be a great concern.
If, however, your fear is of technology (technophobia) or making or taking calls (telephobia), to the extent that it is overwhelming…well, you may need to work on that. Most phobias can be easily managed by yourself by gradually and repeatedly exposing yourself to your fear while practicing self-soothing or relaxation techniques. These include soothing music, counting, aromatherapy, self-massage or just walking it off. Take it slowly and be patient with yourself. As you expose yourself to your fears, repeatedly and methodically remind yourself that you are okay. And give yourself an ‘atta boy.’ Gradually it will become easier until your fear is no longer a disruption. With this new sense of empowerment, you’ll be ready to make the most out of life!