What Are You Afraid Of? A Guide to Dealing with Your Worst Fears

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More Common Fears

"I blush and my heart races if anyone pays attention to me; even when a waiter takes my order, or my boss asks me a question. I'm afraid I'll say or do the wrong thing."

Regular old shyness usually happens when you're in a "first-time" situation; familiarity allows it to evaporate. This is different, since your anxiety is affecting the quality of many realms of your life. You may have what's called social anxiety disorder. For that doctors recommend a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist and an anti-anxiety medication. The therapy will get at the root cause of how this anxiety developed and it will help you see that you're far less likely to embarrass yourself than you think -- and that even if you do it's not as disastrous as you've imagined.

"I've been asked to speak at a big meeting and now I'm terrified. How I can I conquer this fear and keep my job?"

Actually, you don't have to "conquer" it. This is run-of-the-mill performance anxiety and, unless they have ice in their veins, all podium jockeys have felt it at some point. The goal is simply to work with it. "Accepting this kind of anxiety as part of life is a very valuable lesson," says Dr. Yashari. "The key is to tolerate it and keep it under control." There's a reason actors and musicians and other performance artists rehearse: You see in a low-stakes setting that you can do it. And it becomes almost automatic so fear can't shut you down.

Practice with PowerPoint, if you're using it. Make note cards and do a run-through three or four times so you become comfortable with the presentation. Memorize your opening five sentences; say them over and over to every family member who will listen to you. That way you won't falter in the first minute and you'll feel confident right off the bat. If you need more help, consider professional training, through Toastmasters International or with a public-speaking coach.

After you're off to a good start, just focus on the material. You know it. And while you're at it, also focus on the fact that your boss picked you. Kudos!

"I go nuts if there's a bug in my house. I'd have a nervous breakdown if I found bedbugs or saw a mouse. Is this normal?"

In one sense it is very normal -- instinctual, in fact. "Fear of insects, snakes, and rodents is found even in young chimps, probably as an evolved protection against disease or injury," says Nando Pelusi, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in New York City. In another sense it is a little nuts, but in a common way. You're dreaming up your own self-fulfilling horrifying scenario. By saying you'd have a nervous breakdown, you make it so by telling your brain to shut down the functions that help you make good decisions. "Try rephrasing to, 'If I find bedbugs, or a mouse, I won't like it but I'll deal with it,'" says Dr. Baten. "See how your victimized thoughts turn to ways to solve the problem."

For people with verified phobias (and you may have one), this power of positive thinking can help but it can be challenging. You might consider a form of therapy called (it's a mouthful) progressive systematic hierarchical desensitization. You'll sit with a therapist and imagine a series of scenarios, starting with the easiest or safest feeling and going on to the hardest, which, in your case, may be critters crawling on you while you sleep. Along the way the therapist will help you learn how to handle it.

Continued on page 3:  How to Deal

 

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