A brief how and why of phobias

Do you ever feel a sudden sense of panic about something that other people find innocuous? Your friends tell you that it’s harmless, but you can’t help feeling that sudden tightness in your chest and the compulsion to get away? Maybe you’re a bit embarrassed about it … join the club, there are thousands of others like you.

We all have anxieties in our lives, some more than others. This is not the same as a phobia. Anxieties are concerns and worries that produce adrenaline and might keep us up at night. This is not the same as the immediate fear as you encounter your phobic fear, accompanied by a sudden surge of adrenaline, tightening of the chest, increase in heart rate, and focused attention on the object of your fear.

Inside your brain

Imagine that you can look inside your brain. One of the things you would find there is a small almond shaped part called the amygdala. The amygdala’s job is to look out for you, and to keep you alive. It checks everything you do to see if it’s safe. If it thinks that there’s some sort of danger, it leaps in to protect you before you have had a chance to think about it.

Many drivers will have experienced seeing someone who looks as if their going to step out in front of the car. Your foot is on the brake before you even know it and you feel a sharp sense of anxiety. You feel the surge of adrenalin rush through your body. That is your amygdala doing its job, protecting your life.

Unfortunately, the amygdala is pretty dim. It is not creative. It can’t think of new ideas. So when it notices something, it has to check on previous patterns of behaviour to decide what to do next. Once you’ve learned to drive, it knows that if something looks dodgy on the road ahead, it has to tell the foot to hit the brake pedal as quickly as possible. It’s done this loads of times so it remembers the pattern.

When the amygdala gets it wrong

So what happens when the amygdala get things wrong? Something happened in your past that taught the amygdala that if you notice “X” then send a massive jolt of adrenaline into your system, and get ready to run. The “X” could be a getting on an airplane, seeing a spider, going out of doors etc. (Insert your own phobia here.) The amygdala has done this loads of times so it remembers exactly what to do.

Most of the time the amygdala looks after you very well – but, because it is stupid, it sometimes gets things wrong. It is trying to look after you, but in this case it has got the wrong programming. We call this a phobia.

What you can do

So what can you do about a phobia? You cannot rationally think it away, because the amygdala is not part of your rational brain. In fact, when it is seriously concerned with a potential “danger”, it will turn the rational part of your brain off while it “deals with the situation”. It’s no good trying to explain to someone with a phobia that “there’s no need to panic”, because the amygdala isn’t clever enough to understand what you’re saying, and it’s the amygdala that’s in charge at that point. The only thing it can do is to react in the same way that it did the last fifty times – panic.

The only way to deal with a phobia is to reprogram the brain so that the amygdala has a different reaction. The amygdala is outside our conscious control, so it has to be done subconsciously. Fortunately, this is quite easy with hypnotherapy.

Treating phobias

If your phobia seriously impacts your life, then it is worth getting treatment for it. Of course, as a hypnotherapist, I favour hypnotherapy, which can treat most phobias in a very relaxed and pleasant state. However, I should also mention that “other treatments are available”, for example:

Systematic desensitisation – becoming slowly more used to the cause of the phobia
CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy
EMDR – eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing

Hypnotherapy treatment for phobias can be done online or face-to-face in as little as four sessions. Clients are sometimes surprised because of the unusual feeling (for them) of being confident when facing something that they used to be scared of. They cannot quite understand how the old fear has gone so quickly, without them having to undergo any anxiety-inducing desensitisation.

If you would like any help for your phobia, contact me at https://timmaudehypnotherapy.co.uk/contact/ and we can arrange an online meeting and take it from there.