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Afraid of the dark? Here’s how to get over it

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 7:38
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Do you get uneasy when it the sun starts to go down? Prefer to have a nightlight on, and don’t like dark places at all? What  happens if you get lost, and the darkness starts to fall? Here are some ways to help you deal with this problem before it develops into a survival situation.

by Leon Pantenburg

This story comes from Sgt. Marvin Combs former coordinator of the Deschutes County (Oregon) Search and Rescue:

Learn constellations, such as Orion's Belt, and go outside and find them to help overcome fear of the dark. (Old Farmer's Almanac photo)

Learn constellations, such as Orion’s Belt, and go outside and find them to help overcome fear of the dark. (Old Farmer’s Almanac photo)

The hiker had kept going all night, even though he was hopelessly lost in the Three Sisters Wilderness near Bend,  OR. The night was very dark, he didn’t know the terrain and eventually the batteries of his light wore out. The hiker could easily have walked over a cliff, fallen over a log or rock or gotten seriously injured. The next morning, he came out on a road, miles from where any searchers had been looking.

He was afraid to stop and couldn’t build a fire, Combs said.

So why did he keep moving?

“He told us: ‘I heard animals or something moving all around me,’” Combs said in an interview for the Bend Bulletin Winter Survival Guide.

In this case, fear of the dark could have lead to disaster. So if you start to feel a little edgy as the sun goes down, don’t let that affect decisions you may have to make in a survival situation. The time to deal with that fear is before the survival situation develops.

Start by admitting the problem. And don’t think you’re alone.

See video below.

Fear of the dark is called nyctophobia. Sigmund Freud was one of the earliest researchers who made a study of this problem. He thought fear of the dark is an expression of separation anxiety.

In his book “Emotion” William Lyons writes:  “Fear of the dark is not fear of the absence of light, but fear of possible or imagined dangers concealed by the darkness.” It sort of relates to the fear of the unknown.

Many, many adults are afraid of the dark, and some won’t know it until the all the lights go out.

Think about it: The majority of big city dwellers are never in complete darkness. Street lights, the ambient glow from stores and shopping centers, night lights in the house and other illumination sources assure that you are never completely in the dark.

But suddenly, you end up in the  dark. If you are uneasy when you can’t see, that might cause you to act irrationally, or do something crazy.

Here is one suggested way to get over that fear.  Psychologists call this  systematic desensitization. The idea is to confront the issue or problem in small, manageable steps andgradually desensitize yourself.

Here are some steps to take:

  • Realize the problem and decide to do something about it. Come up with some good reasons to conquer this fear. It could be that you have family responsibilities, and during an emergency, would need to take care of others.
    Gradually reduce the amount of light in an area until you are comfortable being in complete darkness. (Pantenburg photo)

    Gradually reduce the amount of light in an area until you are comfortable being in complete darkness. (Pantenburg photo)

  • Then consider what might be causing that fear and give it a name, such as fear of wild animals in the dark. Research the possibility of animal attacks and decide if your fear is grounded in reality. Do this with any nameless fear – the first step to overcoming that is to know what it is.
  • Find a safe spot outside, if possible, that will get completely dark as some point and go there. Sit down and observe the surroundings. Stay as the sun starts to set, and leave when you start to feel uncomfortable. Do this regularly, extending the time you spend there. The goal is to be able to sit in complete darkness.
  • If you live in the big city, you may have to go to your closet and regulate the light with the door and different-sized lights.( It is probably best not to do this without explaining it to other residents of the house.)
  • As you sit, listen and use your senses. Remember, the only difference between daylight and darkness is that you have lost your sense of sight. You can still listen, smell and feel the wind or weather on your skin. Make this a sensory experience and concentrate on using all your senses.
  • Take up astronomy if that is feasible, and go look at the stars. Learn how to tell directions by the constellations, and learn some of the history of celestial navigation. An activity that requires darkness is a good way to take your mind off your fears.

I’m not afraid of the dark, but I don’t like stumbling around, so I always carry backup LED keyring lights in my pocket or attached to my coat zipper fob. Get a light that has an on-off switch, and preferably one that doesn’t turn on when it is squeezed. Otherwise, it may  inadvertently turn on when you don’t want it to.

The right keyring light can also provide about eight hours of illumination, and may be enough to get you safely back to the car in the dark. Some preparation can keep you from wandering around in the dark.

Overcoming a fear of the dark is nothing more than being prepared. And everything you do to increase your overall preparedness for an unexpected emergency is a good thing!

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