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SPECIFIC PHOBIA

Question:

IN THE PAST YEAR I HAVE STRUGGLED WITH THE THOUGHT OF NOT BEING IN CONTROL. FOR INSTANCE, I LOVE TO TRAVEL BUT WILL NOT GET ON A PLANE DUE TO NOT BEING ABLE TO GET OFF IT IF I PANIC OR HAVE AN ANXIETY ATTACK. THIS HAPPENED AFTER A 6 MONTH STRETCH OF PANIC ATTACKS DURING ONLY HOURS OF SLEEP. I WANT TO FIGHT THIS BUT CANOT GET OVER THE ANTICIPATORY PHOBIA. I WANT MY LOVE OF TRAVEL BACK IN MY LIFE.

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Answer:

It is always possible for a person who has never had a panic attack to suddenly and unexpectedly begin to experience the onset of those attacks. For some fortunate people the panic attack will resolve itself and never return. For others the first panic attack is the beginning of a repeating pattern. Then, there are people like you who experience many of these attacks that then lead to a phobia.

Your panic attacks and phobia are very treatable but you must get help now. The reason I emphasize getting help immediately is that, like an infection that, if left untreated can worsen, the same is true for phobias. At the moment you have a phobia about flying even though you love to travel. It does happen that, without help, this type of thing can turn into an agoraphobia where you would not want to leave your home.

You need a very active type of therapy called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy with a strong emphasis on the Behavioral part of the treatment. There are phobia treatment centers, some of which are part of hospital out patient clinics. In this treatment you will be administered anti anxiety medication to lower you level of fear and panic. Then, you will be started on a course of treatment where you will learn to gradually feel comfortable with air ports and air planes. Generally, a paraprofessional at the treatment center will accompany you to the airport. This will not be done precipitously or with force but, instead, very slowly and gradually with a very minimum of discomfort on your part. In fact, one aspect of the treatment will be for you to imagine going to the airport and flying in the plane but without anxiety. Once you can imagine or picture doing these things without fear you will be ready to actually approach the airport and, then, the airplane.

The behavioral technique is referred to as systematic desensitization and it works quite well. The medication is important because it makes the entire process seem a lot less scary and stressful than if you did not use the medication. Of course, the goal is for you to be able to return to your travels without all the fear and avoidance and you will no longer use the medication.

You cannot treat this problem by your self alone but need the training and assistance of professionals. Look up clinics that treat phobias in your community.

Best of Luck

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