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Freaked out by a cup of tea

October 12, 2012
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Phobias are extreme anxious reactions to certain things, and they are as diverse as the human race itself.  Spiders, rats, and creepy-crawlies are common phobias – but what if you were afraid of your morning cuppa?

Psychologist Robert Sharpe in his book “Self-Help For Your Anxiety” recounts the story of a client, Joy, who had developed a phobia that made it impossible for her to drink out of cups or glasses.  It stemmed from a single incident where she nearly choked on a glass of wine at a dinner with a large number of people present.

By the following morning, she found that even reaching for a teacup provoked an anxious reaction, and the phobia only got worse.  What was happening in Joy’s brain?

“Joy…experienced an initial spurt of anxiety following moderately traumatic incidents.  [Her] response was to avoid similar pieces of behaviour in the future…

“These escape and avoidance responses provided strong negative reinforcement.  When Joy took the decision not to attempt to drink her cup of morning tea, [she] experienced a great wave of relief.”

By escaping from an unpleasant situation, Joy’s behaviour was reinforced.  The “good” feelings flooding her brain by avoiding cups and glasses sat in direct proportion to the “bad” feelings of attempting to drink.

Phobias are treatable – it’s merely a case of re-aligning your emotional reactions and unlearning behaviours that have become reinforced over time.

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