Saturday, July 9, 2016

How to Face Your Fears

Fear vs. Phobia

Fear protects you from danger. Phobias have little to do with danger. More than 19 million Americans have a phobia -- an intense, irrational fear when they face a certain situation, activity, or object. With a phobia, you may know your anxiety and fear are not warranted, but you can't help the feelings. And they can be so intense they virtually paralyze you. See what makes some people afraid in the slides ahead.

The Three Kinds of Phobia

Hundreds of different phobias have been identified, including phobophobia or fear of phobias. But when talking about phobias, which are a kind of anxiety disorder, experts divide them into three categories -- agoraphobia, an intense anxiety in public places where an escape might be difficult; social phobia, a fear and avoidance of social situations; and specific phobia, an irrational fear of specific objects or situations.

Agoraphobia: Fear of Public Places

The agora was a market and meeting place in ancient Greece. Someone with agoraphobia is afraid of being trapped in a public place or a place like a bridge or a line at the bank. The actual fear is of not being able to escape if anxiety gets too high. Agoraphobia affects twice as many women as men. If left untreated in extreme cases, it can lead to someone becoming housebound.

Social Phobia: Beyond Being Shy

Someone with a social phobia is not just shy. That person feels extreme anxiety and fear about how he or she will perform in a social situation. Will her actions seem appropriate to others? Will others be able to tell he's anxious? Will the words be there when it's time to talk? Because untreated social phobia often leads to avoiding social contact, it can have a major negative impact on a person's relationships and professional life.

Claustrophobia: Needing a Way Out

Claustrophobia, an abnormal fear of being in enclosed spaces, is a common specific phobia. A person with claustrophobia can't ride in elevators or go through tunnels without extreme anxiety. Afraid of suffocating or being trapped, the person will avoid tight spaces and often engage in "safety seeking behavior," such as opening windows or sitting near an exit. That may make the situation tolerable, but it doesn't relieve the fear.

Zoophobia: A Menagerie of Fears

The most common type of specific phobia is zoophobia or fear of animals. Zoophobia is actually a generic term that encompasses a group of phobias involving specific animals. Examples include arachnophobia -- fear of spiders; ophidiophobia -- fear of snakes; ornithophobia -- fear of birds, and apiphobia -- fear of bees. Such phobias often develop in childhood and sometimes go away as the child ages. But they can persist into adulthood.

Brontophobia: Fear of Thunder

The Greek word bronte means thunder and brontophobia means fear of thunder. Even though people with brontophobia may realize thunder won't hurt them, they may refuse to go outside during a thunderstorm. They may even hide indoors by crouching behind a couch or waiting out the storm in a closet. An abnormal fear of both thunder and lightning is called astraphobia, a phobia shared by people and animals.

Acrophobia: Fear of Heights

Acrophobia is an excessive fear of heights and manifests as severe anxiety. A person could have an attack just walking up stairs or climbing a ladder. Sometimes the fear is so great a person can't move. Acrophobia can create a dangerous situation for someone who has it. An anxiety attack can make it extremely difficult to safely get down from whatever high place triggered the attack.

Aerophobia: Afraid to Fly

Someone who has aerophobia is afraid of flying. The phobia generally develops after a person has a traumatic experience involving an airplane, such as going through extreme turbulence or witnessing another passenger have a panic attack. Even after the incident is forgotten, the fear stays and can even be triggered by watching film of a plane crash on TV. Hypnotherapy is commonly used to identify the initial trauma and to treat this phobia.

Blood-Injection-Injury Phobias

There is a spectrum of blood, injection, and injury phobias including hemophobia (fear of blood) and trypanophobia (fear of receiving an injection). Some people have an injury phobia, and others have a phobia about invasive medical procedures. These phobias are associated with fainting.

Paranormal Fears

Some phobias sound like they belong on the chiller channel on cable TV. Triskaidekaphobia is an abnormal fear of anything related to the number 13. If the thought of ghosts makes you overly anxious, you may have phasmophobia. And despite the fact that vampires aren't real, some people are terrified of bats. Their phobia is called chiroptophobia.

Emetophobia: A Gut Feeling

Emetophobia is an unnatural fear of vomiting that typically starts early in life from some traumatic episode. For instance, someone may have witnessed a schoolmate vomiting in public or done so himself. The anxiety can be triggered by thoughts of vomiting or thinking of somewhere such as a hospital, where vomiting is common. As with aerophobia, hypnotherapy is commonly used in part of the treatment.

Carcinophobia: Fear of Cancer

People with carcinophobia or cancerophobia live with an irrational dread of developing cancer. Every bodily discomfort becomes a sign for them that they have a malignant growth somewhere inside. A headache, for instance, is a sign for them that they have a brain tumor. Cognitive therapy can help someone with carcinophobia regain control of their life.

Phobias From New to Old

Someone who fears anything new has a neophobia. And someone who is afraid of growing old or afraid of old people has a gerontophobia. Somewhere in between, you might find someone with phartophobia, which is an unreasonable fear of passing gas in a public place. Someone with odontiatophobia will go out of his way to avoid going to a dentist. And a spargarophobic individual will panic over a plate of asparagus.

Life-Altering Effects of Phobias

Phobias cause people to change how they live in order to avoid the object of their fear. But their life is also affected by their attempts to conceal the phobia from others. Some people with phobias have problems with friends and family, fail in school, or lose jobs while struggling to cope.

Phobias and Alcohol

Alcoholics can be up to 10 times more likely to suffer from a phobia than those who are not alcoholics. And phobic individuals can be twice as likely to be addicted to alcohol as those who have never been phobic.

A Family Connection

Although phobias can be influenced by culture and triggered by life events, they tend to run in families. Immediate family members of people with phobias are about three times more likely to have a phobia than those without a family history.

Treating Phobias

Desensitization is a process of gradually exposing someone with a phobia to circumstances that resemble what he fears. Over time, the fear lessens as the person builds confidence. This is often accompanied by talk therapy to help the person change how he or she thinks and develop new patterns of response to situations that might trigger the emotions associated with a phobia. The good news is treatment helps 90% of people who follow through.

Learn More About Phobias

These associations can provide you more information about phobias:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,

American Counseling Association,

21 Ways to “Give Good No”

By Christine Carter

Saying “no” can be really hard. But Christine Carter has a three-step plan to get there.

We are coming to that time of the year that is both blessed and cursed with zillions of invitations. Here are some that are in my email right now: Can you meet me for coffee to help me with my book proposal? Will you bring a snack to the 8th grade party on December 19th? Are you coming to our housewarming party? Can you help with my son’s college applications? Do you want to take the kids to see “The Nutcracker” this year?
As much as I’d like to do all of these things, I can’t. When I take on everything that comes my way, I find that I start staying up late in order to get everything done. And then, tired, I start pressing snooze instead of meditating in the morning. Before I know it, I’m too tired to exercise, too, something that is essential for my wellbeing.
It’s a slippery slope that starts with me taking care of other people’s needs at the expense of my own, and ends with me being too tired (and sometimes sick) to take care of anybody’s needs, my own included (much less do anything fun, like go to a party). Perhaps this is obvious, but just to spell it out: When we get sick and tired, we have a hard time feeling happy, and a hard time fulfilling our potential, both at home and at work.
But saying “no” can be really hard—I hate making people feel bad for even asking. It takes practice to say no in a way that doesn’t offend people, much less to say it in a way that makes folks feel happy they asked. Giving no that good takes practice. Here is my three-step plan.

Step One: Prepare yourself to say “No.”

It is much easier to say no to an invitation when we have a concrete reason for doing so—a way to justify our refusal beyond the vague notion that we should avoid the commitment in question.
This means that we need to create the reason for saying no before we need it—we need a decision making structure, or “rules” to guide us so that we don’t have to agonize over every invitation.
For example, one rule I have for myself is that I don’t go out more than two nights in a given week, because I know that when I do this, I get cranky, tired, and run down. So if someone asks me about a third evening one week, I have the structure I need to tell them I’m not available (but thank you for asking!). Similarly, I only meet people during the workday for lunch or coffee two times per week, I only do two speaking engagements a month, and I only do one phone interview a day.
In addition to making rules for myself, I block out time on my calendar for things like writing (in the morning, when I’m most productive), hiking (in the afternoon, when I need a break), and for tackling administrative tasks (on Fridays, when I’m most inclined to want to just tick stuff off my list). This means that a lot of time on my calendar is blocked out, which can be really annoying to people who are trying to make an appointment with me. At the same time, however, blocking time out for the things I need to do to feel calm makes it totally clear to me when I’m just not available. This makes it much easier to give good no.
Finally, if I’m available to do something, I don’t say yes before asking myself a very important question: Do I want to do this thing, or is it that I feel I “should”? Will saying “yes” bring me joy or meaning? Or will I feel dread or regret when this particular event or task rolls around? I’ve learned to notice when I’m glad I said “yes”; it has helped me realize how much happiness I get from helping other people. (I always try to help my friends’ children with their college applications, for example. So fun.)
One of the joys of middle age is that I now feel confident that if I do only the things that I really feel compelled to do (rather than the things I used to do because I thought I “should” do), I end up contributing more. If I find myself considering an invitation because I’m worried about what other people think of me, or because I think it will “look good on my resume,” I just say no.

Step Two: Say no.

Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the GGSC. She is the author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work(forthcoming in January of 2015) andRaising Happiness.
I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have go-to ways to just say no. I mostly use Renee’s “I’m already booked” strategy (see below), because that is most often the reason I can’t do something. Here are some other tactics—21, count ‘em!—that work for me:
1. Vague but effective: “Thank you for asking, but that isn’t going to work out for me.”
2. It’s not personal: “Thank you for asking, but I’m not doing any interviews while I’m writing my book.”
3. Ask me later: “I want to do that, but I’m not available until April. Will you ask me again then?”
4. Let me hook you up: “I can’t do it, but I’ll bet Shelly can. I’ll ask her for you.”
5. Keep trying: “None of those dates work for me, but I would love to see you. Send me some more dates.”
6. Try me last minute: “I can’t put anything else on my calendar this month, but I’d love to do that with you sometime. Will you call me right before you go again?”
7. Gratitude: “Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! I’m sorry I’m not able to help you at this time.”
8. Give Dad a chance: “You know, I feel like moms are always getting to do the holiday parties at school. Let’s ask Dad if he wants to help this year.”
9. 5-minute favor: “I can’t speak at your event, but I will help you promote it on my blog.”
I also asked my friends Renee Trudeau and Katrina Alcorn—two people who’ve honed their ability to say no well—for their favorite go-to ways to say no. Here are Renee’s favorite ways:
10. Just No: “Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that.” (Say it, then shut up.)
11. Gracious: “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.”
12. I’m Sorry: “I wish I could, but it’s just not going to work right now.”
13. It’s Someone Else’s Decision: “I promised my coach (therapist, husband, etc.) I wouldn’t take on any more projects right now. I’m working on creating more balance in my life.”
14. My Family is the Reason: “Thanks so much for the invite, that’s the day of my son’s soccer game, and I never miss those.”
15. I Know Someone Else: “I just don’t have time right now. Let me recommend someone who may be able to help you.”
16. I’m Already Booked: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m already booked that day.”
17. Setting Boundaries: “Let me tell you what I can do…” Then limit the commitment to what will be comfortable for you.
18. Not No, But Not Yes: “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”
(Renee’s list is from her book The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal.)
And here are the additional ways that Katrina most often says no:
19. Say nothing: “Not all requests require an answer. It feels rude to ignore a request, but sometimes it’s the best way for everyone to save face.”
20. Let it all hang out: “Recently my daughter got injured in gym class. It was a week of visits to the ER, the concussion clinic, specialists, etc. I decided to just tell people what was going on, which sort of shut down the requests for a bit.”
21. I’m “maxed out”: “We need a ‘safety word’ for saying no—an easy way to tell people that we can’t/won’t do the thing they are requesting, but that it’s not personal. One convenient thing about authoring a book called Maxed Out is that now I can say ‘I’m maxed out’ and people who are familiar with the book know I’m asking them to respect that I’m taking care of myself, and that I also respect their need to take care of themselves.”

Step 3: Don’t look back.

Plenty of research suggests that when we make a decision in a way that allows us to change our minds later, we tend to be a lot less happy with the decisions that we make. So once we decline an invitation, we need to make an effort to focus on the good that will come from saying no, not the regret or guilt we feel about turning down an offer. Perhaps we will be better rested because we didn’t go to a party, or we’ll feel less resentful because we let someone else help out. Maybe saying no to one thing frees up time for another (more joyful) activity. Whatever the case may be, focus on the positive outcome of your effort to give good no.
Because that is what all this saying no is really about: Allowing ourselves to really enjoy what we are doing in the moment, whatever that might be.
What is your favorite way to say no?

Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem

By Kristin Neff

Researcher Kristin Neff reveals the benefits of going easy on yourself: less anxiety, less conflict, and more peace of mind.

In this incredibly competitive society of ours, how many of us truly feel good about ourselves?
I remember once, as a freshman in college, after spending hours getting ready for a big party, I complained to my boyfriend that my hair, makeup, and outfit were woefully inadequate. He tried to reassure me by saying, “Don’t worry, you look fine.”
Juan EsteyJuan Estey
Fine? Oh great, I always wanted to look fine . . .”
The desire to feel special is understandable. The problem is that by definition it’s impossible for everyone to be above average at the same time. Although there are some ways in which we excel, there is always someone smarter, prettier, more successful. How do we cope with this?
Not very well. To see ourselves positively, we tend to inflate our own egos and put others down so that we can feel good in comparison. But this strategy comes at a price—it holds us back from reaching our full potential in life.
How can we grow if we can’t acknowledge our own weaknesses? We might temporarily feel better about ourselves by ignoring our flaws, or by believing our issues and difficulties are somebody else’s fault, but in the long run we only harm ourselves by getting stuck in endless cycles of stagnation and conflict.
Continually feeding our need for positive self-evaluation is a bit like stuffing ourselves with candy. We get a brief sugar high, then a crash. And right after the crash comes a pendulum swing to despair as we realize that—however much we’d like to—we can’t always blame our problems on someone else. We can’t always feel special and above average.
The result is often devastating. Most of us are incredibly hard on ourselves when we finally admit some flaw or shortcoming: “I’m not good enough. I’m worthless.”
And of course, the goalposts for what counts as “good enough” seem always to remain out of reach. No matter how well we do, someone else always seems to be doing it better. The result of this line of thinking is sobering: Millions of people need to take pharmaceuticals every day just to cope with daily life. Insecurity, anxiety, and depression are incredibly common in our society, and much of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t winning in the game of life.
Another way
So what’s the answer? To stop judging and evaluating ourselves altogether. To stop trying to label ourselves as “good” or “bad” and simply accept ourselves with an open heart. To treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend—or even a stranger, for that matter.
When I first came across the idea of “self-compassion,” it changed my life almost immediately. It was during my last year in the human development doctoral program at the University of California, Berkeley, as I was putting the finishing touches on my dissertation. I was going through a really difficult time following the breakup of my first marriage, and I was full of shame and self-loathing. I thought signing up for meditation classes at a local Buddhist center might help. As part of my exploration, I read Sharon Salzberg’s classic book Lovingkindness and was never the same again.
I had known that Buddhists talk a lot about the importance of compassion, but I had never considered that having compassion for yourself might be as important as having compassion for others. From the Buddhist point of view, you have to care about yourself before you can really care about other people.
I remember talking to my new fiancĂ©, Rupert, who joined me for the weekly Buddhist group meetings, and shaking my head in amazement. “You mean you’re actually allowed to be nice to yourself, to have compassion for yourself when you mess up or are going through a really hard time? I don’t know . . . if I’m too self-compassionate, won’t I just be lazy and selfish?” It took me a while to get my head around it.
But I slowly came to realize that self-criticism—despite being socially sanctioned—was not at all helpful, and in fact only made things worse. I wasn’t making myself a better person by beating myself up all the time. Instead, I was causing myself to feel inadequate and insecure, then taking out my frustration on the people closest to me. More than that, I wasn’t owning up to many things because I was so afraid of the self-hate that would follow if I admitted the truth.
After getting my Ph.D., I did two years of postdoctoral training with a leading self-esteem researcher. I quickly learned that although thousands of articles had been written on the importance of self-esteem, researchers were now starting to point out all the traps that people can fall into when they try to get and keep a sense of high self-esteem: narcissism, self-absorption, self-righteous anger, prejudice, discrimination, and so on.
I realized that self-compassion was the perfect alternative to the relentless pursuit of self-esteem. Why? Because it offers the same protection against harsh self-criticism as self-esteem, but without the need to see ourselves as perfect or as better than others. In other words, self-compassion provides the same benefits as high self-esteem without its drawbacks.
Although no one had yet defined self-compassion from an academic perspective—let alone done any research on it—I knew that this would be my life’s work.
Over the past decade, research that my colleagues and I have conducted shows that self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives, helping us avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. More so than self-esteem, the nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we’re better able to notice what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so that we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.
The science of self-compassion
So what is self-compassion? What does it mean exactly?
Kristin Neff’s new book, <a href=“”><i>Self-Compassion</i> (William Morrow, 2011)</a>.Kristin Neff's new book, Self-Compassion (William Morrow, 2011).
As I’ve defined it, self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness—that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.
This means that unlike self-esteem, the good feelings of self-compassion do not depend on being special and above average, or on meeting ideal goals. Instead, they come from caring about ourselves—fragile and imperfect yet magnificent as we are. Rather than pitting ourselves against other people in an endless comparison game, we embrace what we share with others and feel more connected and whole in the process. And the good feelings of self-compassion don’t go away when we mess up or things go wrong. In fact, self-compassion steps in precisely where self-esteem lets us down—whenever we fail or feel inadequate.
Sure, you skeptics may be saying to yourself, but what does the research show?
The bottom line is that according to the science, self-compassion does in fact appear to offer the same advantages as high self-esteem, with no discernable downsides.
The first thing to know is that self-compassion and self-esteem do tend to go together. If you’re self-compassionate, you’ll tend to have higher self-esteem than if you’re endlessly self-critical. And like high self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with significantly less anxiety and depression, as well as more happiness, optimism, and positive emotions. However, self-compassion offers clear advantages over self-esteem when things go wrong, or when our egos are threatened.
In one study my colleagues and I conducted, for instance, undergraduate students were asked to fill out measures of self-compassion and self-esteem. Next came the hard part. They were asked to participate in a mock job interview to “test their interviewing skills.”
A lot of undergrads are nervous about the interviewing process, especially given that they will soon be applying for jobs in real life. As part of the experiment, students were asked to write an answer to that dreaded but inevitable interview question, “Please describe your greatest weakness.” Afterward they were asked to report how anxious they were feeling.
Participants’ self-compassion levels, but not their self-esteem levels, predicted how much anxiety they felt. In other words, self-compassionate students reported feeling less self-conscious and nervous than those who lacked self-compassion, presumably because they felt okay admitting and talking about their weak points.
Students with high self-esteem, by contrast, were no less anxious than those with low self-esteem, having been thrown off balance by the challenge of discussing their failings. And interestingly, self-compassionate people used fewer first-person singular pronouns such as “I” when writing about their weaknesses, instead using more first-person plural pronouns such as “we.” They also made references to friends, family, and other humans more often. This suggests that the sense of interconnectedness inherent to self-compassion plays an important role in its ability to buffer against anxiety.
Another study required people to imagine being in potentially embarrassing situations: being on a sports team and blowing a big game, for instance, or performing in a play and forgetting one’s lines. How would participants feel if something like this happened to them?
Self-compassionate participants were less likely to feel humiliated or incompetent, or to take it too personally. Instead, they said they would take things in stride, thinking thoughts like “Everybody goofs up now and then” and “In the long run, this doesn’t really matter.” Having high self-esteem, however, made little difference. Those with both high and low self-esteem were equally likely to have thoughts like, “I’m such a loser” or “I wish I could die.” Once again, high self-esteem tends to come up empty-handed when the chips are down.
In a different study, participants were asked to make a videotape that would introduce and describe themselves. They were then told that someone would watch their tape and give them feedback in terms of how warm, friendly, intelligent, likable, and mature they appeared (the feedback was bogus, of course).
Half the participants received positive feedback, the other half neutral feedback. Self-compassionate people were relatively unflustered regardless of whether the feedback was positive or neutral, and they were willing to say the feedback was based on their own personality either way. People with high levels of self-esteem, however, tended to get upset when they received neutral feedback (what, I’m just average?). They were also more likely to deny that the neutral feedback was due to their own personality (surely it’s because the person who watched the tape was an idiot!).
This suggests that self-compassionate people are better able to accept who they are regardless of the degree of praise they receive from others. Self-esteem, on the other hand, only thrives when the reviews are good and may lead to evasive and counterproductive tactics when there’s a possibility of facing unpleasant truths about oneself.
Recently, my colleague Roos Vonk and I investigated the benefits of self-compassion versus self-esteem with more than three thousand people from various walks of life, the largest study to examine this issue so far.
First, we examined the stability of positive feelings these people experienced toward themselves over time. Did these feelings tend to go up and down like a yo-yo or were they relatively constant? We hypothesized that self-esteem would be associated with relatively unstable feelings of self-worth, since self-esteem tends to be diminished whenever things don’t turn out as well as desired. On the other hand, because compassion can be extended to oneself in both good times and bad, we expected the feelings of self-worth to remain steadier over time among self-compassionate people.
To test this idea, we had participants report on how they were feeling toward themselves at the time—for instance, “I feel inferior to others at this moment” or “I feel good about myself”—doing so 12 different times over a period of eight months.
Next, we calculated the degree to which overall levels of self-compassion or self-esteem predicted stability in self-worth over this period. As expected, self-compassion was clearly associated with steadier and more constant feelings of self-worth than self-esteem. We also found that self-compassion was less likely than self-esteem to be contingent on outside factors like social approval, success in competitions, or feeling attractive. When our sense of self-worth stems from being a human being intrinsically worthy of respect—rather than being contingent on reaching certain goals—our sense of self-worth is much less easily shaken.
We also found that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion was associated with less social comparison and less need to retaliate for perceived personal slights. It was also linked to less “need for cognitive closure,” which is psych-speak for the need to be right without question. People who invest their self-worth in feeling superior and infallible tend to get angry and defensive when their status is threatened. People who compassionately accept their imperfection, however, no longer need to engage in such unhealthy behaviors to protect their egos.
In fact, a striking finding of the study was that people with high self-esteem were much more narcissistic than those with low self-esteem. In contrast, self-compassion was completely unassociated with narcissism, meaning that people who are high in self-compassion are no more likely to be narcissistic than people low in self-compassion.
An island of calm
Taken together, this research suggests that self-compassion provides an island of calm, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment, so that we can finally stop asking, “Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?” By tapping into our inner wellsprings of kindness, acknowledging the shared nature of our imperfect human condition, we can start to feel more secure, accepted, and alive.
It does take work to break the self-criticizing habits of a lifetime, but at the end of the day, you are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and it could change your life.