Real-life fears are much scarier than scenes from a horror film, like a serial killer doll or flesh-eating zombies. The most common fears and phobias cause more discomfort than your average spook and are more real and complex.
These fears can be debilitating, preventing people from living wholly or causing them to create a routine focused on avoiding triggers — tolerating the sensations that result from triggering objects or situations isn’t an option, as they’re known to make people feel like they’re in a life-threatening situation.
Some of humanity’s most common phobias are well known, like the fear of heights or of the dark. Others, however, are less expected, like the fear of speaking to strangers due to anxiety about what they might think of you. To free yourself of these fears, you have to understand them — it’s not enough to change the channel or end the conversation.
Debugging humankind’s most common fears
Fear has an important job: keeping us alive. Without it, we might challenge dangerous animals or throw ourselves off cliffs without the fear of pain or death. It’s a protection instinct.
But irrational fears can cause us to withdraw from life’s joys, affecting our quality of life. When fear reaches this level, it’s upgraded to a phobia. With phobias, your mind has established what psychology calls “automatic thoughts” — every time the feared situation occurs, your brain automatically receives a message (in the amygdala), and your body reacts with uncomfortable sensations and attempts to get away from the “danger.”
Humankind’s 10 most common fears
How to overcome a fear or phobia
To change the system, aside from understanding it better, it’s necessary to gradually come into contact with your fear — to face it, safely. The exposure will create a new form of reasoning, which consists of creating new, safe memories about your fears. In time, the brain learns those situations don’t always need to alert you to “escape” to survive. Slowly, your automatic thoughts become different, calmer feelings and behaviors. This type of treatment is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
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