Comprehensive guide to beat anxiety and phobia

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Kevin Mangelschots

Most of, if not all, have probably experienced anxiety, and perhaps even a phobia at some point in our lives.

It is a common problem that’s negatively impacting many people’s life. And that’s exactly why I created this comprehensive guide to beat anxiety and phobia, so you can live your life optimally.

Why is it that we experience these negative emotions? Where do those feelings originate from, and do they have any utility at all? Let’s find out.

How to beat anxiety and fears

Anxiety and fear stem from the way you look at things coupled with a possible neurological/biological proclivity towards experiencing these emotions, which is all influenced by environmental factors as well.

As we can see, feeling these sensations is the result of multiple biological, psychological, and environmental components influencing each other.

It’s treatable by a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, exercising, and potentially medication depending on the severity of the issue.

Although, medicine should only be used as a last resort, or when the person in question at risk for self harm, or suicidal.

  • Voluntary and gradual exposure to the things you are afraid of or anxious about

     

    One of the best things to do in order to beat anxiety and fearfulnesses is to voluntarily expose ourselves to the things we’re fearful about.

    We are rarely afraid of something we are good at. It’s only logical that we try to avoid what we are scared of, or not good at.

    Yet, to improve at a skill like let’s say socializing because you’re socially anxious, you’ve got to be willing to allow the chance for failure in order to be able to train your social skills.

    So you can’t be afraid to fail if you want to get better at something. And remember that we rarely get something exactly right the way we want it to from trying for the very first time.

  • Focus your attention externally

    Illustration of a man living inside his own head by questioning himself constantly.

    Rather than living too much in your own head and filling your mind with doubts and fears, focus your attention externally.

    This way, you don’t have time to start doubting yourself and let negative thoughts and emotions poison your mind.

    Let’s use social anxiety as an example. A conversation is basically asking inquiries, and responding to questions and the other person’s body language.

    In order to do so effectively, we’ll need to look the other person in the eyes while examining the other person’s body language when we are conversing with each other. We also need to practice active listening to figure out what our conversational partner is trying to tell us.

    This way, we can ask specific and purposeful questions rather than getting stuck thinking about ourselves all the time.

  • Exercising

     

    Picture of multiple people lifting with barbells in a gym.

    Exercising will help to regulate your dopamine-serotonin system, which has been proven to decrease anxiety and fear. It relaxes the mind and body by reducing the amount of cortisol that gets released, which is our stress hormone.

    Medication has also been proven to help regulate this system. Though, I would only recommend taking medicine as a last resort. Try to improve your mindset, and working out first before dabbling into drugs, unless you’re at risk for harming yourself. You can’t do anything wrong with the natural treatments.

  • Relaxation exercises

    Illustration of a woman performing deep breathing exercises when lying down on her back on the ground.

    Relaxation exercises such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing movements have a calming effect on the mind and body. They’re a great way to reduce tension, especially after a stressful day, or period.

    Mindfulness is particularly useful to eliminate, or decrease unfavorable thoughts because the goal of the therapy is to focus on the present, and to disregard the future and past for a while.

    Mindfulness is often coupled with breathing exercises, which can lead to a most relaxing experience for maximum efficiency.

    Your antagonistic thoughts and procrastinating will decrease, leading to experiencing less anxiety in the process.

  • Medication

     

    An open bottle of capsules with the capsules falling out on the table.

    Medication should always be used as a measure of last resort, or when the person in question is at risk for harming themselves.

    Medicine should always be supplemented with cognitive behavioral therapy and other natural treatments such as exercising, and relaxation movements. Even if used to treat mental disorders.

    Because pills alone will rarely take away the cause of a psychological illness. However, it can assist us by decreasing the severity of the symptoms we’re experiencing, allowing us to function better.

    And while diminishing the sometimes crippling symptoms of anxiety and phobic disorder is a good thing, it is also where the potential danger lies.

    Some people think they’re cured simply because the medication masks, or lessens the associated indications such as negative thoughts, and anxiety.

    Not to mention that some medication can also be psychologically, or physiologically addictive. That’s why you should always make sure to discuss this, along with other worries thoroughly with your treating health care practitioner, and why you’re well advised to do your research beforehand.

What is anxiety?

Image of a text explaining what anxiety is.

Anxiety is best defined as a feeling of unease, such as worrying about something can make us feel uncomfortable, for example. This feeling of discomfort can range from mild, to extremely severe.

Everyone has, or has had, feelings of anxiety at some point during their lives, and this is perfectly normal. It can even be advantageous when having a job interview, when presenting a lecture in front of a class, or during an examination, for instance. That’s because a bit of anxiousness makes us more productive, and perform better. On the flip side, being too tense will decrease fruitfulness, and make us do worse.

And while feeling a bit anxious in these situations is the norm, this feeling of uneasiness gets so severe in some instances that it goes together with antagonistic physical and mental symptoms. Think of effects such as sweating, shortness of breath, worrying, fear of failure, …

Needless to say, this can be detrimental to the afflicted person’s daily life, which can lead to avoiding certain situations to prevent this overall feeling of anxiousness. Anxiety can also cause you to get startled easily since you’re ‘on edge’ when experiencing these sensations.

Anxiety can also be a symptom of mental illnesses like depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder, just to name a few.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an overwhelming fear and worry of a place, situation, object, feeling, or animal.

Some fears like being frightened of falling from extreme heights is a naturally occurring worry, and has an objectively protective function because it prevents us from falling to our death.

But phobic disorders are more severe, and typically develop when the afflicted person has an unrealistic, or exaggerated feeling of concern and danger about a certain situation.

This dread may become so severe that it impacts a person’s daily functioning negatively. The afflicted person often organizes their life in such a manner so that they consciously avoid this triggering situation, person, object, or environment that’s causing them to feel this extreme fear.

Is anxiety bad?

Anxiety can be a good or bad thing depending on the intensity, and the amount of anxiousness you feel.

I would say that a bit of concern can actually be beneficial to a better performance, since it makes you more productive and focused.

However, too much anxiety will lead to a decrease in performance because you’re so stressed that your senses get overloaded. So it’s walking a fine line between it being a perk, or an impairment.

Different groups of anxiety and fears

Image of various symptoms of anxiety lingering around the keyword, “anxiety”, that's written in red.

  • Naturally occurring fears

    Certain naturally occurring phobias and anxiety can be a remnant from ancient times like fear of snakes, fear of extreme heights and fire.

    The biggest difference between rational phobias and irrational fears is that naturally occurring fears have a valid base with an objectively protective function.

    Irrational fears have no real usefulness and are blown out of their usual proportion by greatly exaggerating the perceived threat.

    Rational fears can be a useful tool for determining when someone, or something, is a threat to our existence or safety. Fear of snakes or fire, for instance, are actually helpful, natural fears since snakes can be poisonous while fire can lead to severe injuries, and even death.

  • Irrational fears

    Irrational fears stem from your personal perspective, and are different for each individual. It’s dependent on how much value and attention you decide to give to the very thing that is giving you anxiety.

    If you develop an overwhelmingly magnified, or unrealistic feeling of worry, anxiety, and danger about a certain situation, then these are considered irrational fears. The phobia is blown way out of proportion compared to the actual danger.

    Things like being afraid of a small spider, or being afraid of a rat are considered irrational phobic neurosis. Because generally speaking, those little, non-poisonous animals pose little threat or harm to our survival.

Different types of anxiety

In general, we can differentiate between 6 major types of anxiety disorders and phobias.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

    Illustration describing what a generalized anxiety disorder is, and what the symptoms are.

    A generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by feeling anxious most of the time while awake.

    In order to be diagnosed with a GAD, you must be worrying about a large variety of different things for at least six months or more.

  • Social anxiety

    Social anxiety is defined as a profound feeling of anxiety of, and/or in certain specific social situations.

    There can be a variety of reasons for these uncomfortable feelings like being afraid of being judged, being afraid of saying something wrong or silly, an inferiority complex, depression, …

  • Specific phobias

    A specific phobia is an extreme fear of one specific thing such as agoraphobia is fear of certain places or situations, and like arachnophobia is fear of spiders, …

  • Panic disorder

    A young child panicking and yelling.

    A panic disorder is an anxiety disorder wherein the affected person experiences several reoccurring and unexpected panic attacks.

    These attacks of terror are sudden periods of intense fear, and may be, though not always, accompanied by a feeling that something terrible is going to happen. It’s regularly accompanied by other physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations as well.

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

    An obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental illness wherein a person feels the need to perform certain routines (compulsions) repeatedly, or has repeated thoughts about these compulsions. (Obsessions.)

    The affected person is unable to control either these thoughts, or these actions for a prolonged period of time. Common compulsions are handwashing obsessively, continuously checking if a door is locked, …

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

    This is a mental health condition that is triggered by a negative and terrifying experience.

    Either going through, or witnessing a tragic event can cause a post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Possible evidences are flashbacks of the event, nightmares, severe anxiety, …

Causes of anxiety and phobias

Multiple possible questions being written on a wooden board.

Anxiety and fears can have a biological, psychological, or an environmental cause. Often times, it’s a combination of all three aforementioned reasons.

Environmental causes can exacerbate previously unnoticeable, yet still present biological and psychological inceptions.

  • Biological causes

    Biologically, our dopamine and serotonin system that regulates our mood can become dysregulated, which makes us prone to anxiety disorders and certain phobias.

    It’s possible that an individual is inclined to develop anxiety disorders due to the way their genes are programmed.

    So it’s entirely possible to be more biologically susceptible to experiencing anxiety because of your personality. Either because we react poorly to stress, because we’re going through a lot of psychological trauma/mental strain, or because we feel tension and negative emotions more strongly.

  • Psychological causes

    Even though some people are more disposed to feel stress by nature (biological cause), it’s also possible to experience anxiety due to psychological origins like experiencing tragic events, depression, …

    If you are not feeling well mentally, and are stuck in a negative mindset, then it’s a lot more likely that you’ll develop certain phobias or an anxiety disorder of some sort.

  • Environmental/social causes

    A group of friends sitting together on a hill.

    Environmental causes are, like the word says, anxiety that’s caused by your direct, or indirect environment.

    For example: Being bullied at school can lead to psychological stress. The Covid-19 lockdown can cause depression, anxiety by increasing the amount of psychological stress we experience because our social contact is limited. This is exacerbated because we need to wear masks when going out in public, practicing social distancing, and since we’re not allowed to hug or touch other people anymore.

    So environmental causes worsen preexisting biological and psychological weak points. Even though those biological and psychological causes might not have been noticeable to yourself and others previously.

    Due to a harsh and negatively impacting surroundings, your biological and psychological weak spots might become visible and detectable to yourself and the public.

    Take note that certain medications can also have an effect on your dopamine-serotonin system, which influences your mood. Therefore, certain medicines may improve, but also worsen your anxiety.

An example of anxiety in life

The word “example” written in red letters on a white background.

Do you remember that ominous feeling of anxiety and butterflies in your stomach? And all the other symptoms associated with this anxiousness and fear?

Because I still remember it vividly. Your heart beating so hard that it’s about to jump out of your chest, sweating, turning red, getting nauseous and lightheaded, an upset stomach, …

A lot of people recognize this haunting feeling from their school-time whenever they needed to perform a lecture in front of their classmates. And while a bit of healthy anxiety is not abnormal, and even beneficial for performance in some instances, that’s not the case for everyone.

For some people, this anxiety is much more severe and can even turn into a phobia if left unaddressed. People who suffer from a severe anxiety disorder may start avoiding situations that aggravate those uncomfortable feelings.

Using cognitive behavioral therapy to combat anxiety and phobia

Behavioral therapy is a talk therapy that is especially useful to combat mental disorders like, you guessed it, anxiety disorders and phobias.

How does cognitive behavioral therapy work?

Image showing how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works by challenging wrong and negative thoughts.

It works by changing the way you look at things due to changing your perspective. Not only that, cognitive behavioral therapy includes learning you effective and healthy coping strategies that will help you to deal with situations that make you anxious more effectively. Essentially, teaching you to utilize healthy habits to reduce tension.

Let’s say you’re socially anxious because you’re afraid you’re going to say something “wrong” or silly.

Behavioral therapy might include rationalizing your fears by explaining to you that everyone says something goofy from time to time. It might try to change your mindset by teaching you that it’s not the end of the world, even if it does happen. That’s because most people are too busy minding their own business instead of analyzing every little thing their surroundings say.

When to start cognitive behavioral therapy?

Anxiety and phobias can be treated with behavioral therapy, exercising and medication.

The first step in treatment should always be behavioral therapy and exercising before starting to treat with medication. Except for when the anxiety or phobia is so severe that the person is suicidal.

Nevertheless, even when treatment with medication is at hand, it should always be supplemented with cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise!

What mental disorders does cognitive behavioral therapy treat?

Cognitive behavioral therapy treats many mental disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Panic disorders
  • Anger issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • ADHD

Conclusion

Image of a hand holding a card with the word “conclusions” written in blue.

While a certain amount of anxiety can be beneficial for performance, too much anxiousness will always be detrimental for performance, your psychological health, and your daily functioning.

It’s a fine and delicate balance to maintain. But if the uncomfortableness interferes with your daily life, or keeps you from doing certain things, then it’s most certainly an issue.

However, there’s hope. Anxiety and phobias are treatable.

The first step is to expose your weaknesses. If you know that you’re biologically more prone to experiencing stress or feeling stress more severely, for instance, then it’s up to you to reduce stress as much as possible. You can do so by creating effective, healthy coping strategies to handle the stress more effectively.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be especially potent at managing mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. The way this therapy works is by changing your point of view to be more realistic, and by helping you to create effective stress coping strategies.