Should You Deal With Your Phobia on Your Own?

scared woman in crowd
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If you suffer from a phobia, you're probably all too familiar with the advice used by friends and family who are trying to help you deal with it: "Suck it up." "Be a man." "Get over it."

Some people assume that offering statistics can help you face your fear. "You are X number of times more likely to get struck by lightning/run over by a speeding bus/hit by a baseball than you are to die of (whatever your fear is)."

Although these words of wisdom can motivate and encourage people who are experiencing everyday nerves, they can actually be paralyzing if you're suffering from legitimate phobias. Why? You already know that your fear is irrational. Being reminded of its irrationality can, paradoxically, make the fear that much stronger.

Confronting Your Phobia

It's almost always possible to confront a feared situation. How you react to that confrontation, however, depends on many factors. A severe, deep-rooted and long-lasting phobia is much more difficult to confront than a mild one that just recently developed.

When you're already nervous or stressed out, confronting a phobia is more difficult than when you're calm and relaxed. Confronting multiple triggers, such as crowds and loud noises, is harder than dealing with a single triggering situation.

Dealing With a Phobia On Your Own

Our reactions to phobias can be as different as the things that trigger them. Some people run away. Others cry. Some people become angry and hostile. Some freeze in place.

Think about the times that you have accidentally run into a situation that triggered your phobia. Intentionally placing yourself into the feared situation will likely trigger a similar reaction.

Some people find that when they intentionally confront their triggers, the sense of control it gives them lessens their reactions. However, this experience is by no means universal.

The Dangers of Dealing With a Phobia 

Flooding is a mental health technique in which a person who suffers from a phobia is immersed in a triggering situation. However, the technique is used by trained mental health professionals, often alongside other relaxation techniques like mindful breathing and visualization exercises.

Studies show that flooding can cause elevated stress not only in the patient but sometimes also in the therapist. Trying to perform flooding on your own may cause you to panic or have other reactions that could even make your phobia worse.

Some phobic reactions can lead to potentially dangerous behaviors. If your tendency is to run away from a trigger, attempting to confront a fear of heights by perching on a roof ledge could end tragically. If you tend to lash out physically when confined, confronting your claustrophobia at a densely packed event could cause trouble.

Is It a Phobia or Just a Fear?

It can sometimes be tough to tell the difference between a fear and a phobia. If your fear is persistent and irrational, causing more than a mild "butterflies in the stomach" reaction, and it is interfering with your life, your fear may be a phobia.

If you generally find yourself avoiding a particular situation or obsessing about an upcoming confrontation, or if you display dramatic reactions such as running away, shaking or crying, it's probably safe to assume that you may have more than a simple fear.

How Should You Deal With a Phobia?

Consult with your family doctor or a trained mental health professional about any fear that seems severe or affects your life. Many phobias can be treated in just a few sessions using a combination of therapy techniques and, possibly, medications.

You may learn coping techniques and strategies, confront the root of your fear or work through a process known as systematic desensitization in which you are gradually exposed to the object of your fear.

While it's tempting to try to deal with a phobia on your own, professional guidance can increase your chances for success and ensure that you don't accidentally make things worse in the process. The next time a well-meaning friend tells you to "get over it," tell him or her that you're working through your fears in a responsible way.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schumacher S, Miller R, Fehm L, Kirschbaum C, Fydrich T, Ströhle A. Therapists' and patients' stress responses during graduated versus flooding in vivo exposure in the treatment of specific phobia: A preliminary observational study. Psychiatry Res. 2015;230(2):668-75. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2015.10.020

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Phobia.

  3. MedlinePlus. Phobias.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.).

  • Tomlinson, Nicole. In Depth: Psychology. "Fear Factors." CBC News.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.