“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932, First Inaugural Address.
Fear spares no one
We all experience fear in various forms. What should worry us most is not its existence, but rather its impact on our day to day life and the way it can transform us. Before going deeper into this topic, let me share with you a personal experience that made me consider fear from a new and different perspective.
My family and I were on holiday in Paris. What does the city of love and romance have to do with fear, you may ask. My children, who were aged eight and four at the time, wanted us to visit the Eiffel Tower. They wanted to go to the top by going up the stairs, to make it a funnier and more exciting experience. My husband immediately agreed but I was less enthusiastic. I was afraid of heights and merely the thought of it was enough to give me shivers and dizziness. My son, who was both frightened and excited at the same time, told me he would only go if I went too. I realized that I had only two options: step back and tell them I was too scared to join, or take a deep breath and join them. By refusing to join in, I would not only succumb to my fear but I also risked leading my son to be afraid, as I had witnessed in my family before. If, however, I faced my fear and joined them, I could show my children that my fear would not deter me, and I would not have spoiled the family experience.
This has a significant effect on our mind and body. It is a natural response to a dangerous or threatening situation. Fear is necessary for our survival, as it elicits our responses to threat, thus allowing us to react to situations which endanger us. When we are afraid, we may experience the following physical symptoms:
*increased heart rate
*loss of appetite
*hot or cold sweats
When Fear becomes Anxiety
If these symptoms become commonplace over an extended period of time, this moves from fear to anxiety. Anxiety, in general, elicits feelings of worrying or fear, ranging from mild to severe, and usually involves a broader range of situations and issues, as there is often no specific event which causes it. Feeling anxious comes not only with the physical symptoms described above, but also with psychological issues:
*inability to concentrate
*frequently feeling “on the edge”
*having trouble sleeping
*loss of self-confidence
If we experience extreme fear, that paralyses or overwhelms us, then we are experiencing a phobia. Phobias are more than just a simple fear. A phobia is a specific fear of an object, a place, a situation, an animal or a person. If we have a phobia of something we do anything possible to avoid it and we will often organize our entire life around avoiding it. Phobia is an anxiety disorder and there are many types of phobia: fear of spiders, snakes, dogs, heights, water, the dark, enclosed spaces, speaking in public, social phobia; the list goes on.
So why do we fear? Quite simply, it is human nature to fear. We are built to experience fear, much like our experience of other emotions such as joy, courage, sadness, or loneliness. Fear can be extremely helpful as it assists us to avoid dangers, e.g. if we are scared the lion will eat us we don’t walk up to it and try to pat it. However, when fear takes over our lives, it becomes a more serious issue. If we allow our fear to change us and take control, we empower it. Trying to change human nature is improbable, but trying to change ourselves is a much more achievable goal.
How to Overcome your Fears
Here are a few steps to support you to overcome your fears, whether they are fears that are transmitted to you through family or loved ones, fears created by your own mind or fears that arise from a traumatic event in your life:
- Realize or become conscious of your fears. Ask, ‘what fears do I have?’
- Try to better understand and know yourself. Ask, ‘how often do these fears interfere with my life?’ and ‘what are the situations that trigger these fears?
- Try to confront those fears by not feeling ashamed of them or feel guilty about them. Remember, everyone has fears.
- Ask for professional help if the process overwhelms you or it is too painful for you to go through it by yourself.
The act of asking for help when needed is just as important as the act of giving help. We can offer you support with anxiety and/or phobias via counselling, psychotherapy or Neuro Linguistic Programming. Contact us to arrange a free consultation.
Returning to my previously mentioned experience in Paris, in the end, I chose to have a wonderful experience with my family and to break free from the vicious circle caused by my fear of heights. It was not a comfortable decision, for we all know that for change to happen we must remove ourselves from our comfort zone. The motivation to change must be bigger than the fear itself. And when examining our own motivations for facing our fears, we might find it useful to ask ourselves two simple questions: What do I want my family members, friends, colleagues etc. to think about me? And, how would I like them to describe me after I have gone?
Written by Sorina Oprea, Edited by Jennifer McElroy, Both Psychology Assistants at The Green Rooms