Last week, I wrote a post about my emetophobia. Many of you have gotten in touch with me to talk about your experiences. I’ve been struck by how many of you are also suffering from the anxiety that this phobia brings with it. In a way, it’s been oddly comforting to know that I’m not alone.
Today I wanted to talk a bit about the tactics I use to manage my emetophobia. My phobic behaviour used to be a lot worse than it currently is. I don’t know that I’ll ever be “all better” but I’ve learned a few strategies to make day-to-day life a bit easier. I must point out that I am not a therapist or a psychologist. Although I’ve seen therapists to discuss issues with anxiety, I’ve never been treated specifically for my emetophobia. This is a list of things that have worked for me. They won’t work for everybody, but if you’d like to give them a try, go ahead.
Tell somebody about it.
It’s really hard to talk about emetophobia. For the longest time, I didn’t tell anyone about the way I was feeling, because I thought they’d think I was stupid, or that I was overdramatizing. I dreaded the thought that they’d tell me to ‘just get over it’. However, telling Ross was one of the best things I’ve ever done. He’s incredibly supportive and helpful. It’s great to have somebody to talk to when I’m feeling anxious, somebody who can help me to dismantle my anxious thought patterns. He’s also been incredible at pushing me to face some of the things I’m frightened of without judging me.
If you feel brave enough, it’s a good idea to tell somebody close to you how you’re feeling. Choose somebody who you trust. It could be your partner, your mother or father or your best friend. They might not understand the way you feel, but I bet that they’ll do their best to empathise and support you.
Face your fear (even a little)
The things that trigger my emetophobia can be placed on a continuum. Some things frighten me a little, where as some situations are liable to bring on a full-on panic attack. I have found that setting small challenges for myself has really helped me to reclaim my sense of control. For example, a while ago I couldn’t bear the thought of travelling on public transport. It was really hampering my ability to live my life. So one day I forced myself to just get on the bus and take a short trip. I was so nervous, scanning the environment for anyone that was looking sickly and being careful not to touch anything. At the end of the trip, I was fine. I reminded myself of this every time I had to take a trip from that point onwards.
Do something that scares you a little. Allow someone else to cook dinner for you. Eat something that’s not on your ‘safe’ food list. Write or say the word “vomit”. Challenge yourself to face your fear. You’ll be nervous and scared, for sure, but the likelihood is you’ll make it through safely. And once you do, your confidence will begin to grow.
Learn techniques to deal with anxiety
In order to face your fears, you’ll need to have an arsenal of anxiety-slaying techniques to help you out. When you start to feel nervous or panicky, you can work your way through these techniques to help you feel calmer. There are plenty of breathing exercises that will help you calm down (and which can be done without drawing attention to yourself). When I’m feeling nervous, I like to try this : breathe deeply while counting to eight, then breath out slowly while counting to eight. Rinse and repeat.
I also swear by Bach’s Rescue Remedy. I don’t know if it’s a placebo or not, but a few drops of this can really help me to avert a panic attack.
This site has loads of detailed instructions for different relaxation techniques. You could also visit a councillor to learn more about anxiety management.
Question those phobic thoughts.
There are times when my mind swirls with phobic thoughts. These worries and fears feed off each other, until they spiral out of control.
One of the best things I’ve learned to do is to question those thoughts. I’ll ask myself, “Is this really true?” This helps me to break down those phobic thoughts. For example, if I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t want to go to sleep, because I might vomit during the night”, I will try to break that thought down. I’ll tell myself that I most likely won’t be ill during the night, and that this hasn’t happened to me since I was a baby. I will try to reassure myself that the thing I’m afraid of is very unlikely, and that I don’t need to be scared of that remote possibility.
Questioning those phobic thoughts takes practice. You might find that your mind starts coming up with more fearsome scenarios, but try to keep breaking them down and proving them wrong.
Limit your social media consumption
I get so anxious if I read on Facebook that one of my friends has gotten sick, or that their kids have been up all night vomiting. If a friend has a tendency to over-share about illness or their kids health, I will take them off my newsfeed. This might seem anti-social, but it makes it a lot easier for me to cope if I’m not constantly reading about the gastro outbreak at the local kindergarten.
Know that you’re not alone.
When you’re struggling with any kind of feeling that’s out of the ordinary, it can be easy to feel like you’re the only person going through it. At times, I’ve felt embarrassed, frustrated with myself, stupid or crazy because of my emetophobia. It helps to remind yourself that you’re not alone. Emetophobia is surprisingly common. Remind yourself that having emetophobia doesn’t make you stupid or nuts and it certainly doesn’t make you less of a person.