Although the fear may be illogical, it feels very real, and facing this fear could feel as scary as facing a dog-sized spider. In saying that, by avoiding the things we find scary, we may make ourselves feel better in the short term, but in the long term, our fears are reinforced.
Our brain’s job is to keep us safe. When there is a threat to our safety, our internal alarm goes off, and our body gets ready to fight, flight or flee. Sometimes our alarm system can’t tell the difference between real or imagined threats, and we may get “false alarms”. If we avoid the things we find scary when we get a false alarm, what we are telling our brain is that the alarm was warranted. This then programs our alarms to go off the next time we are in the same situation.
So what can we do about it? Essentially, we need to tell our brain that we can handle things even if they feel scary. In the case of vomit phobia, this might mean subjecting yourself or your child to vomit-related things, and reducing avoidance. This will probably be very difficult, so starting small and building your way up is best.
The cardinal rule is not to stop doing the scary thing until it becomes less scary.
For instance, you might need to look at a picture of vomit for 30 minutes until it becomes boring. The scariest time is often in the lead-up, so try to keep the anticipatory period short. As with developing any skill, practice is essential. You might find that after 30 minutes, you feel a lot less distressed, but the next time you practice, you feel nearly as distressed as you did the first time.
The more you practice, the less intense the fear becomes. By practising, you not only teach your brain that you are not only capable, but you also learn to tolerate the discomfort and see that discomfort is generally safe and manageable (even if it feels awful). Eventually, the discomfort will decrease, and you will find you can manage bigger challenges.
It is important to stay kind to yourself or your child through this experience. Facing your fears is terrifying, so acknowledge the bravery it takes to do so. Remind yourself or your child of previous times you/they felt scared and made it to the other side. Validation and encouragement can make the process more comfortable.
Lastly, have fun – create vomit games, songs, and posters. Just because the process is terrifying does not mean it can’t be silly.