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11Alive morning team faces fears | News

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11Alive morning team faces fears

ATLANTA -- In the spirit of Halloween, Karyn, Ted and Chesley decided to face their fears and try to overcome them.

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Ted is afraid of heights.

"I get the creeps on tall staircases and buildings," he said. "It feels like my body is getting sucked over the edge."

He described being paralyzed on a hike at Charlie's Bunion in the Smoky Mountains with his sons. When they turned a corner and hit a 1,000 foot sheer on the narrow trail, Ted said, "I had an involuntary response. My body slammed against the cliff wall behind me, and when I tried to yell at my boys to come back, nothing came out."

"Your ability to yell and call for help is part of the body's reaction to fear," said Dr. Josh Spitalnick, a therapist who specializes in phobias.

He explained that most fears are grounded in preservation instincts while phobias are actually life altering.

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"It's miserable," Spitalnick said. "They don't leave their homes, don't go to office buildings, don't go on elevators."

"I'll still face heights, just not like I used to," Ted said.  

Karyn goes out of her way to avoid her fear, germs.

"Germophobia, it's an irrational fear of dirt, germs, contamination," said Dr. Maryrose Gerardi with Emory University's Psychiatry Department. "You basically overestimate the risk that's associated with contact."

Karyn will use a napkin or her coat to cover door handles, won't drink from water fountains and rarely uses public restrooms.

"I'm nauseous, I really am," she said when Dr. Geraldi asked her to touch the sink in a public restroom. "I wouldn't touch anything in here."

With coaching, Karyn was eventually able to touch the restoom door handle. 

"I don't like it," she said. "I can't tell you the last time I touched a handle like that." She couldn't wait to get out her hand wipes.

Chesley realized he had claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed or restrictive situations, after going in for an MRI in 2007. 

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"I was so afraid, I couldn't go through with the procedure," he said.

Emory University Psychology professor Dr. Barbara Rothbaum said Chesley is likely on the low end of the claustrophobia spectrum.

"I have had people who couldn't go to the restroom with the door closed because they didn't want to be closed in that way," she said. "They also couldn't go to public restrooms unless they had the space at the bottom, so they can crawl out."

Fortunately, she said claustrophobia is treatable. Treatments range from exposure therapy to sedation.