Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I’m not sure how or why it happened—but it sure keeps me humble—that a year ago I realized that my son Jonah was afraid of elevators. He hid this from me by saying things like,
“It’s healthier to take the stairs,” and
“Elevators waste electricity,” anytime we needed to up or downstairs.
My little hippie heart was gratified. I was raising an environmental child. Finally my endless comments about recycling and composting and carbon footprints were taking effect. Or so I thought.
It was a dark and rainy day, and we were purchasing a large and unwieldy vacuum cleaner. On the way to the car I told him,
“Today we have to take the elevator,”
“No!” he said, his face a tight little circle of panic. His hand clutched mine in a ninja death grip as he pulled me towards the stairs.
It was then that I figured out that my child’s pro-planet propaganda was simply one very smart little boy’s method of engaging in the classic, tragic, and phobia strengthening response of avoidance.
I held his hand and told him, “We are not a family that let our fears boss us around” and I marched him to the elevator—under his protest—and we rode up and down until he was once again pushing the buttons for each and every passenger with glee.
Phobias are two faced: if you ignore or avoid them, they grow into insatiable beasts that devour your freedom, but if you face them head on, they shrink and weaken.
Avoidance is our natural reaction to discomfort, and in many situations it’s a perfectly sensible and logical response. For instance avoiding too-small shoes due to the pain they inflict is a good idea. But avoiding places or objects or experiences due to underlying phobias is a problem, because it is like sending your phobia to a gym to do pushups: it gets stronger.
The National Institute of Health estimates that 40 million Americans or 18.1 percent of the population suffer from anxiety disorders including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).
If this information makes you a bit anxious, take comfort: Anxiety disorders are treatable.
On October 3rd I am presenting on the identification and treatment of anxiety disorders for the Sierra Tucson professional development series. You can learn more at: http://www.sierratucson.com/upcoming_proevents.php#428
Two days later on the 5th I’m presenting on emotional regulation for ADD Resources annual conference.
Whew!….Good thing I’m not afraid of public speaking…very much.
- Identifying and Treating Common Phobias (aolhealth.com)
- The Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders (brainposts.blogspot.com)