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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Never Fear: The Fix

Conquer any fear with this DIY guide to applying a proven treatment plan called cognitive- behavioral therapy. Think of it as training for the mind.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Photo illustration by Stephen Beneski
Photo illustration by Stephen Beneski

In the Field

Learning is essential, but it’s not enough. “You can’t read yourself out of a phobia,” says Page Anderson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. When you come into contact with your feared object over and over, and no catastrophes ensue, your brain will get used to it—and your body will stop reacting with panic.

  • Build a hierarchy Make a list of situations and rate how much each scares you on a scale of 1 to 100. Put them in ascending order from least to most frightening. See this sample fear hierarchy for grizzly bears:

1. Looking at pictures of bears (10)
2. Watching videos of calm bears in a natural setting (15)
3. Watching videos of aggressive, growling bears (20)
4. Imagining encountering a bear on the trail (35)
5. Seeing a bear at the zoo (40)
6. Standing close to a bear at the zoo (50)
7. Driving around Yellowstone National Park (70)
8. Watching a bear in the park from the car (75)
9. Dayhiking with a group in Yellowstone (85)
10. Dayhiking alone in Yellowstone (95)
11. Camping in a Yellowstone frontcountry campground (98)
12. Camping in the Yellowstone backcountry (100)

  • Work up the ladder Starting with the least-scary item on your list, put yourself in each of the situations and—this is key—stick with it until your anxiety fades. “Allow the fear to come and pass,” says Todd Farchione, assistant research professor at the Boston University Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. Repeat each step as necessary before moving. An experienced friend or guide can help.

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