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How to Manage Social Phobia: Part II

In the second of our two-part series on phobias, health correspondent Emily Senay shows us what you can do to overcome a phobia.

A phobia is a powerful, irrational, involuntary fear that can literally paralyze a person. And because a phobia has the potential to disrupt your life, sometimes you have to face your fear to overcome it.

Diane Kullen suffers from a specific phobia: She fears escalators. She is confronting her fear in therapy in order to overcome it. "I really don't want to do this . . . there's an elevator right there I could take. I just feel like I'm gonna start tumbling or falling or losing control," says Kullen. "Your mouth gets dry and this feeling overcomes you where you get sweaty."

With the help of her therapist, Jerilyn Ross, Diane explores her irrational feelings in order to take the steps she fears most. "It's just this very bizarre strange thing. It's nothing that's logical." She successfully walked around onto the down escalator. Despite the successes, it's not easy going. She is now facing the down escalator and is not able to go. "It's exhausting. It's a lot of work," says Kullen.

With repetition to reinforce her therapy, the effort becomes easier, but it will take a lot more practice for Kullen to live a completely normal life. "I just want it to be just a natural thing like walking or driving a car or anything you do in your everyday life. Just a natural thing and not think, 'Oh, my goodness! I have to face an escalator today.'"

Specific phobias like Diane Kullen's fear of escalators can be caused by a vulnerability to panic attacks that become associated with a specific object like the escalator when the attack strikes. It's a combination of genetics, personality, and the environment.

There are medications you can take to ease anxiety and calm down the body's physical responses. Severe phobias can be treated with antidepressants, too.

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