More Than You See 3.6 - Personal Triggers & Specific Phobias
2:48AM Dec 13, 2021
Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the More Than You See podcast hosted by me, actor, filmmaker mental health advocate Deborah Lee Smith. Every Monday, I come to you to share some resources, have a conversation, and generally just dive into all sorts of topics around mental health. I am not a licensed practitioner or therapist, but just a woman exploring my own mental health journey and sharing it with you, my listeners, My hope is that this podcast brings you some joy, some understanding and some tools so that you can build your own mental health toolbox.
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the little mini series that we're doing all about anxiety. This is season three, episode six. And on this episode, we're going to talk about specific phobias that are related to anxiety that cause anxiety. It's actually very interesting because under this idea of specific phobias, lies OCD, PTSD, those are kind of under the anxiety umbrella, but relate to specific phobias. So that's what we're going to talk about today. Two episodes ago, we talked about generalized anxiety disorder. And then last week, we talked about social anxiety and the difference between social anxiety and shyness. So if either of those episodes sound interesting to you, I highly recommend that you check them out. I've got some really fun tools and resources and homework assignments, so that you can build your own mental health toolbox, which is what this podcast is all about.
Now, I actually want to start this week by getting super personal with you all. I had an experience this weekend. And I wanted to share it with you because as I was having this experience, I was realizing how much my own anxiety tied to past trauma was causing me to spiral. And the reason why I want to talk about this is because I think that sometimes at least for myself, when I put understanding on something a little bit more, it allows me to give myself a little bit more grace. And I know that that's something that I definitely need to work on is allowing myself more grace, allowing myself to fuck up when it comes to my feelings, and know that my feelings are not necessarily my reality. It's just the temporary state of mind that I'm in right then.
So the very briefly, I ended up watching a show on Friday night, that a lot of people in the social guys Zeitgeist are very upset about for various reasons. But the reason that this show really set me off and put me into, honestly, like one of the most anxious states that I've been in for months and months, was because of how the writers had treated this one character, and, in my opinion, applauded his bad behavior in the show. And writers can do whatever they want. And it is, you know, they have the ability to craft these characters. And I am obviously in the entertainment industry. So I'm so, so incredibly grateful for writers in general, I applaud you, but the way that they treated this character, and the way that they lauded him really triggered me. And the reason that it really triggered me is that it reminded me of some past relationships and past experiences that I've had, in which I was really treated very poorly. And the writers making it okay for this character to be celebrated in this way made me feel like my trauma and the people who had traumatized me were also being celebrated.
Now, of course, that's not true. And of course, that was really just the state of mind that I was in. And it's incredible, that we can watch shows and get an emotional reaction to it. And as one of my dearest friends in the world, reminded me after I talked to her, after I had this experience with this show, she was like, you know, Deborah, one of the reasons why you are such an incredible actress and such an incredible person is the way that you can relate to the world and react in such a strong way in such an emotional way and those emotions are not bad. Those emotions are just what make up who I am and just a part of me as a person. But the reason I wanted to share this is that the amount of anxiety that I ended up having for the rest of the evening, because of that show, it was just like such a good reminder that we don't know what we are going to be triggered by, we don't know when we are going to be triggered. And all we can really do in those moments of anxiety are to assess the situation, try and change the environment, try and change the state of mind that you're in in some capacity, and know that you are going to get through it. You are going to get through to the other side.
Personally, I stopped watching that show. I ended up putting on something else that made me way happier. And I brought out my journal and did some journaling about why this was causing me so much anxiety, why this was sending me down just all sorts of unhelpful spirals. And just again, reminded me or reminded myself that the feelings that I was having, while completely valid, because they were my feelings, they also again, we're not facts. And I think equally importantly, when I talked to other people about their experience with the show, they had other reasons why this show pissed them off so much. But they didn't have the same reaction that I did. In fact, I have one other friend who had the same reaction that I did. And she has also experienced some pretty damaging relationships. And so she was having that same reaction because this show was triggering her in the same way that was triggering me. But other people who haven't necessarily had those kind of negative interactions in their relationships, were not triggered by that at all. And so I think that it is just such an important reminder that whatever you are triggered by, someone else may not understand it, no one else may understand it. And that's okay.
If you are feeling triggered by something, if something is causing you anxiety, and you are judging yourself for having that triggered response, let me remind you that that is however you are feeling is perfectly okay. However you are triggered by something, it is perfectly okay. And it just is what makes us all human, and makes us all different, and makes us all the wonderful fabric of humanity that we are all a part of.
So now we'll actually dive into this episode about specific phobias. But I hope that this story helps you feel a little less alone when you're feeling triggered by something and reminds you that, number one, there are other people out there who are probably feeling the same way that you are, and that however you're feeling is perfectly okay. And that I and you know your community are here for you.
Now when we talk about specific phobias, as related to anxiety, I'm going to continue going back to that story that I just shared because I think it will make things make sense in some capacity. So a specific phobia involves a persistent fear of a specific object or situation that's out of proportion to the actual risk and this is taken from the Mayoclinic.org, and specific phobias are broken down into five different categories: situations such as airplanes, enclosed spaces, or going to school. Nature, such as thunderstorms or heights. Animals or insects, such as dogs or spiders or snakes or all sorts of creepy crawly things. Number four is blood injection or injuries such as needles, accidents, or medical procedures. And this could have to do with someone else or with yourself. And then number five is just a general specific phobias such as choking, vomiting, loud noises, clowns, whatever you have a specific phobia to. So these, that's the five different categories of specific phobias.
Now, again, I think the really important thing to remember is the fact that you are having a reaction to something that is out of proportion to the actual risk. So going back to the story that I just shared, obviously, I had a very intense reaction to that show that was out of proportion to maybe someone else's reaction to that show. And again, that is just showing that something that you may have a specific phobia against, towards I don't know, exact lingo that someone else may not have that specific phobia to that exact thing. Now, no matter what kind of specific phobia that you have, it is likely to produce these types of reactions, an immediate intense feeling of fear, anxiety and panic. Even when you are thinking about the source of your fear, it doesn't even have to be that you are necessarily seeing a spider, you could even think about a spider and it could cause that same kind of reaction, that same kind of persistent anxiety to that specific phobia, you also will potentially have an awareness that your fears are unreasonable or exaggerated, but you feel powerless to control them. And potentially, as you're thinking about a situation, your anxiety can get worse whether you are getting closer to this situation in time or in physical proximity. You also may potentially have difficulty functioning because of your fear. And you might have an intense physical reactions such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, tight chest, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness, etc. Again, this is all from the Mayo Clinic.
Now, when is it important for you to see a doctor as related to specific phobias? So you know, you can have a specific phobia against something like I've worked with someone who has a phobia of elevators. Now, that is an annoyance, but he is perfectly happy to take the stairs. And that's actually a very common one, people to have an intense fear of elevators, and so they take the stairs instead. But unless it's actually really interfering with your work, or unless it's something that you really want to try and attack and try and, you know, work through that phobia, it doesn't necessarily mean that you need to see a doctor in this case.
A lot of phobias, we do tend to grow out of for example, you know, most kids are afraid of the dark or afraid of I mean spiders or something like that. There is the potential that we can actually work through our phobias and get over them. But again, if it is causing you to not be able to live your best life or it is interfering in your quality of life, then that is a point when you should potentially see a doctor.
Now what can you do when it comes to specific phobias? What are some of the treatment options with anxiety around specific things? Now, depending upon what the cause is of that phobia, that's really important as it is, as I've said before, you know, figuring out what the root cause is, is very key specifically to specific phobias, because this type of anxiety, in particular can be tied to a past experience, or a past experience that maybe a family member had. So this is where, you know, generational trauma can really show up.
I was listening to a podcast before and this woman was talking about how she could not be near horses. And it wasn't just like out in a paddock, it was like, you know horses in Central Park that are pulling carriages like anything to do with a horse, she would start to go into a panic attack and had such an intense fear around it. And she eventually started talking to her family about it and found out that one of her like great, great, great grandmothers - so you know, three generations back - had actually been thrown by a horse and was deeply injured by that. Clearly that fear, that fear reaction to that specific animal had been passed down through three different generations and was sitting in her. And so she was talking about how EMDR therapy and how other types of very specific, you know, cognitive behavioral therapy had really helped her able to get over that specific type of phobia. So again, this is definitely something where you know, psychological help, going and having a therapist to help you work through this specific phobia is extremely, extremely important.
Now, when it comes to treatment, one of the most common ways is to do exposure therapy, which is often done with the help of a licensed professional. And that's where cognitive behavioral therapy really comes into play. For example, if you have a fear of dogs, your therapist will encourage you to think about dogs, see, watch, look at pictures of dogs, watch videos of dogs, whatever. And it will both they will work through that phobia when they are, you know, working with you and assign some homework so that you can work through those periods of anxiety as well.
And the thing to remember when it comes to phobia and anxiety in general is that it is caused by fear in the brain. So again, this is your brain seeing something and thinking that you are in mortal peril. And so your brain, you know, goes into this state of fear and floods your body with extra hormones with, you know, stress hormones that reminds you that, oh, this thing that I'm having a reaction to is bad. So that's where, if it is determined to be necessary, medication can be so incredibly important when it comes to treating specific phobias. Because, you know, one of the most common things that are prescribed when you have a specific phobia is a beta blocker. And what how a beta blocker works is it actually blocks the brain's fear reaction to something. So when you will, you know, see a dog, instead of having an immediate fear response, it kind of allows your thinking brain to kick in, and your emotional reaction brain is blocked. Beta blocker... It's blocked by this medication.
I know a lot of actor friends of mine who have taken beta blockers before if they have, you know, crippling anxiety when it comes to speaking in public or performing, which obviously can be very difficult if that is part of your career. So I think that this is where these specific medications, it's just a reminder that you know, medication, what it's really doing is it's kind of interacting with your hormones with your body itself, and potentially steering you away from that guttural emotional reaction, and instead allowing your thinking brain to take over and say, you know, like, I'm not actually in danger, this dog is very cuddly, and is not actually going to attack my face. And I'm fine.
Now, I think that there's a lot of, you know, a really important conversation to be had around different types of therapy, different types of treatments. And so actually, our next episode is going to be about treatments and about therapy. I had a wonderful, one of the listeners reach out and share his experience with a very new type of therapy that he is going through right now. And so I'm going to read what he wrote to me, and then I'm going to be talking to a friend about her experience with new types of therapy as well. And I think that it's so important for us to remember when it comes to any of these pervasive feelings of anxiety, that there are tools that we can have in order to work through them.
You know, going back to the story that I shared at the top of the episode, my reaction, that night was very much who I am at my core. But it was also very tempered and controlled in some way, because I really have learned how to be hyper aware of how I'm reacting to situations. And that is just so helpful for me to interact with others and to interact with myself. And so, you know, I really am able to kind of assess how I'm feeling and know that this is not something that's going to last forever, and kind of instinctively be able to figure out how to work through that emotion without having any collateral damage against someone else, or interacting with someone in some capacity, that's not going to be so super helpful. I just think that, you know, these tiny little tools that we can do the building of self awareness, the writing down of our feelings, the, you know, medication if, if it is necessary, but really, you know, being able to assess the situation and say, this is why I'm reacting this way. And it's okay that I'm reacting this way. I think that that is like one of the biggest mental health tools that's in my toolbox at this point is my self awareness.
I know that I kind of went all over the place and kind of on some tangents this week, but I just really felt that this story was important to share and that it shows how much you know, different things can trigger us and how it's just so incredibly important to figure out what those triggers are. Again, it's not necessarily a phobia, like I am 100% going to be watching TV for the rest of my life but am I going to be a lot more careful before I continue watching that show absofuckinlutely I am. And I'm also going to set myself up for success in some ways. Maybe I will watch it with a friend, maybe I will make sure that I've had enough food and water that day so that I'm feeling like physically okay so that if I'm, if I then feel emotionally a little bit wrecked, it's going to be less of a you know, negative experience for myself.
I don't know if any of that makes sense. But I just think that this was just such a wonderful reminder that our triggers are part of us, but they do not control us. They are not us. Our feelings are who we are, but they are not facts. And it's just so incredibly important to surround yourself with people who give you space for working through those specific phobias or that trauma, that anxiety. And I'm just so grateful that this community can be included in your support system in some way.
Please share this episode with anyone that you might think resonates with it. I have such a strong, mighty little growing audience that I'm just so freakin proud of. But of course, I always want to, you know, reach more people if possible. Please reach out to me on Instagram. Let me know how you felt about this episode.
Again next week, we're going to be talking about specific treatments when it comes to anxiety and depression and all of our feelings that we have. Please be kind to yourself this week. And I'm specifically talking to myself when I say that. Please remember that you and everyone around you is more than you see, and you never know what they're going through. Thank you so much for listening. I look forward to chatting with you again next week.