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Facing your fears: Overcome by pushing your limits

Posted at 5:20 PM, Oct 31, 2017

It's Halloween, a great time to be scared, right? But for many of us fears aren't fun and games. You might think it's best to stay away from the things that scare you the most. But one expert says doing the opposite may help you more.

How about if you're afraid of germs?

"You could touch the inside of the toilet and you can rub that on your face," says Psychologist Dr. David Shanley.

It sounds gross, and if you're afraid of germs the thought is downright terrifying.

But Shanley, who helps people fight their phobias, says facing your fears head on could be the key to getting over them. The first step is to asses exactly what they're fearing and what they're doing to avoid it. Then determine how much exposure to that fear a client can take. For example, a fear of dogs.  

"If they take their fear head on and go to the dog park straight out then they're going to save themselves a lot of time of working up step-by-step," Shanley says.  

Not everyone can go that far that fast. But Shanley says there has to be some level of exposure to make progress. Not just to fears on the outside, but on the inside.  

"Part of the exposure is actually flooding them to those scariest thoughts," Dr. Shanley says.  

If a person were afraid of elevators or tight spaces, overcoming the fear is about more than riding from floor to floor.  

"You more want them actually thinking all the worst case scenarios so that they know that the next time they need to get into the elevator they can do it whether they are having happy thoughts or negative thoughts," Shanley says.  

And when facing a fear of heights, the same principles apply.  

"I would ask the person to, all right can you climb up here?" Shanley says. "And then as they are climbing up I would also be telling them, all right now look down and think about wow that's a long ways down and what if I fell?"  

Dr. Shanley says these are all things you can try on your own, and repetition is key.

"Without it their success rate of the treatment is a lot less," Shanley says.  

And don't be shy. Shanley says if you don't face your deepest, darkest fear, it could come back. Something to keep in perspective when things get a little dirty.

"I don't have to like it. They don't have to enjoy this process but we want it to illicit this fear," Shanley says.

You can find out more about Dr. David Shanley here.