Rebecca, 21, shares her experience of cynophobia (an extreme fear of dogs) and explains what helped her cope with it.
I don’t really know where it started but ever since I was young I have had a fear of dogs - big, small, quiet, loud….any dog going. It caused me lots of stress. You don’t realise until you try to avoid them that they are everywhere!
My phobia had a big effect on my life. For example, before going to see a friend I would have to factor in whether they had a dog or not – and if so, whether I could ask them to put the dog away – or whether it was easier to just avoid it altogether. When I was out for a walk, I’d constantly cross the street to avoid the sight of dogs out walking with their owners. It affected me even in situations you wouldn’t expect, like at some restaurants and workplaces that permit dogs.
It is a phobia people really don’t understand as well. Often people’s response would be “but how can you be scared of something so small and cute?” Well, I wish I knew!
When I was out for a walk, I’d constantly cross the street to avoid the sight of dogs out walking with their owners.
I tried hypnotherapy and CBT but neither worked. They were helpful in making me realise I have a phobia, but that was about it. That being said, alongside the phobias I also faced an eating disorder, OCD and depression, so there was a lot going on for me. These may work for you though, so by all means give them a try!
In the end, what worked best for me was actually exposing myself to my phobia in a process called ‘flooding’. Flooding is when you expose yourself to something that causes you anxiety (in my case dogs), until your anxiety calms down and you see there is no real threat.
For me, this happened at Christmas. My auntie and uncle had got a dog and I wasn’t going to miss Christmas for the sake of a dog. Was I going to make it awkward and embarrassing by asking them to put the dog away for the whole of the day? I couldn’t do that. Instead, I summoned all my courage and took the big step of allowing myself to be in the same room as the dog. Trust me, at first I was crying inside, but after some time I realised the dog didn’t want to hurt me, it just wanted a quick little sniff, smell and lick and to say hello!
In the end, what worked best for me was actually exposing myself to my phobia in a process called ‘flooding’.
Now, I still avoid dogs when and where possible, but I suppose I have learnt how to manage my phobia so that it doesn’t affect my life as much.
So, for all of you out there with phobias, whatever it is that you are afraid of, you can learn to manage. There is no point avoiding it your whole life – that won’t get you anywhere and it will be a tough life full of anxiety! It’s difficult, but you have to face your fear and learn to sit with it, when and where necessary. I promise you will be okay and you will get through it.
More information and advice
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Where to get help
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Supports people struggling with panic attacks, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety-related issues - and provides support and information for their carers.
Offers a specialist youth helpline for people aged 13-20. The opening hours are 3pm - 6pm, Monday - Friday; 6pm - 8pm, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Call 01952 680835 for a recorded breathing exercise to help you through a panic attack (available 24/7).
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