At certain times, we all suffer from fears, anxiety and phobias. Learning about how our brains create and deal with fear, and what to do about it, can really help.
Fears, phobias and anxiety — What are they?
Our brains and bodies are “wired” to protect us. When we encounter something that we think might hurt us, we experience fear, which triggers a response called the “fight or flight” response. We want to combat the frightening situation, or run away to protect ourselves. When the fear is very overwhelming, there may be a third response called “freeze”, where we feel like we just can’t move.
Fears can be rational, like a fear of fire, vicious dogs, or falling. When fears become irrational, about “ordinary” things in life, and interfere with our daily functioning, they are called phobias. If a fear or phobia goes on for a long time, we may find that just thinking about the frightening situation can bring on anxiety.
Anxiety is the term used to describe our bodies’ reactions to fears and phobias. Some of these include:
- Sweating, trembling and nausea
- Rapid heartbeat
- Extreme avoidance of the fear situation
- Automatic, uncontrollable reactions that consume the mind and body
- Alcohol or substance use in an attempt to ease the anxious feelings
What can help?
Try these simple techniques to lower anxiety. You may need to repeat them many times, if anxiety is severe. They work best when used together, and practice definitely helps
- Change your breathing — Take a short breath in through the nose, and then breathe out slowly. Do this several times. Focusing on exhaling helps change your body chemistry, and will begin to calm you.
- Relax your body — Sit comfortably, breathe out a few times, and then allow your body parts to gently tense, then relax. Start with your feet, and work your way up. When you find spots that are especially tense, spend some extra time there.
- Change your thinking — While breathing calmly and relaxing your body, let yourself notice what you see, hear and feel. Notice that you are safe, and tell yourself that you are taking care of yourself by using these techniques. Notice the messages you may be giving yourself about the frightening situation. Later you may be able to examine these, and decide if they are really true, or are old “self-talk” messages that can be changed.
If self help isn’t enough
Anxiety symptoms can be very disruptive. If the techniques above don’t help enough, consider working with a therapist to learn these skills more intensively. Therapy can also help identify and resolve old issues that may be triggers to present anxiety.
While you’re looking, check out our web page on anxiety management. It lists some of the symptoms of anxiety, more tools to manage it, and a great link to even more skills for coping with anxiety.
Don’t continue to suffer in silence. Help is available, and is usually very effective.