beating heart means a heart attack is imminent, dizziness will result in
your passing out, mental blocking indicates you are going crazy, and
(3) the only way to avoid death or other serious disaster is to get out
and keep out of those situations--to avoid getting scared and escape
immediately. So, what are the consequences of this kind of thinking?
They avoid situations that may bring on panic; they are very cautious
in public situations (avoid excitement and stay close to exits); they try
to control the symptoms (lean against wall when dizzy); they have an
escape plan, carry tranquilizers, go with a friend only on nice days and
when they are feeling good. In short, by so carefully avoiding the
scary situations, the agoraphobic never questions or tests his/her
beliefs about fears, so the phobias only grow, never shrink. So, to
reduce fears, the fundamental bases or beliefs (1, 2 & 3 above) on
which fears are built must be confronted, tested, and proven wrong.
Expose yourself to the feared situation and find out you don't die,
indeed the fear or panic decreases.
In case you have difficulty believing that thoughts can have
powerful impact on fears, consider this interesting but unusual
example of how thoughts can radically influence our strong emotions.
Scary sports, like parachuting, give psychologists a rare opportunity to
repeatedly observe the relationship between thinking and fear. An
interesting thing happens as we become more experienced
parachutists. As one would expect, the beginning parachutist
experiences increasing stress immediately before the time to jump.
He/she is fairly relaxed the previous day and during the night. Early in
the morning on the day of the jump, there may be some mild
excitement. Even the ride to the airport is pretty calm. As he/she
gathers the equipment and prepares to board the plane, the anxiety
rises. As the plane takes off, his/her stress increases, until there is
very high anxiety while waiting for the "ready" signal from the
jumpmaster, approaching the door, looking out, and jumping. Few
people do this the first time without feeling terror ...for a few minutes.
Now, what happens with an experienced parachutist? Well, he/she
is calmer than the beginner during the last few minutes before the
jump. That's no surprise. But why is he/she more calm? Apparently
because he/she is busy thinking about and planning or checking every
detail of the jump: Is my equipment in order? Do I remember what to
do? Where's the landing site? Where are the power lines? What's the
wind direction and speed? Cognitive functions are dominant--taking
care of business--and override the fear response. What happens with
the beginner? He/she is thinking about: Will the jumpmaster see that
I'm scared? What if the plane's tail hits me? I hope I don't freeze. I'm
really scared. Oh, God, I don't want Ann/Joe to see me splattered on
the ground. Again, our thoughts seem to determine our feelings.
There is another interesting finding: the experienced parachutist is
more anxious than the beginning parachutist on the previous day,
during the night, early in the morning getting ready to go to the
airport, and after the jump is completed. Why? We don't know why.
Perhaps the total tension is about the same for experienced and