Hunt 1, “Fear is what has kept us alive on this planet from day one. We all know flight or fight. At times we are not able to do either. Fear can be managed though. We do it all the time. Intense fear can also be managed; albeit more difficult.
Phobia is something else again. This is intense, irrational fear- an anxiety disorder. A life-disrupting disorder. Many manage phobias as well- Extreme phobias, not so much.
Phobia is fear. Fear comes in two stages;
That which we actually face
That which we fear we might face.”
Marks & Nesse2.Abstract:
“This article reviews the evolutionary origins and functions of the capacity for anxiety, and relevant clinical and research issues. Normal anxiety is an emotion that helps organisms defend against a wide variety of threats. There is a general capacity for normal defensive arousal, and subtypes of normal anxiety protect against particular kinds of threats. These normal subtypes correspond somewhat too mild forms of various anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders arise from dysregulation of normal defensive responses. If a drug were discovered that abolished all defensive anxiety, it could do harm as well as good. Factors that have shaped anxiety-regulation mechanisms can explain tendencies to associate anxiety more quickly with certain cues than with others. These tendencies lead to excess fear of largely archaic dangers, like snakes, and too little fear of new threats, like cars. An understanding of the evolutionary origins, functions, and mechanisms of anxiety suggests new questions about anxiety disorders.”
Berni Sewell’s success story (excerpts) 3, “I was lying on the sofa in my tiny flat in Vienna. My feet were elevated on a cushion and the room was spinning in a brisk waltz around me. My stomach was cramping and cold sweat was trickling down my spine. I gasped for air whenever choking fear forced my racing heart to skip a couple of beats. The situation was all too familiar.
Back then I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety. I was also plagued by severe toilet anxiety, which is a fear of needing the toilet when none is available. As a consequence, I had panic attacks several times a week.
I was a hostage of my fear! It dictated what I could and couldn’t do. It confined me to my comfort zone and denied me dreams and aspirations.
I was never free to pursue fun adventures or meet new people. I was handcuffed to my sofa, my familiar daily routine, and the nearest toilet facility.
And when I attempted to escape, I was hit with a merciless panic attack that left me stunned and shivering back where I was safe. On my sofa, in my little flat. Right where I sat in the dark on a December evening in 2003 and wept; for being a victim, for being a prisoner, for being weak and scared. For not having a life.
And it was right there on that little sofa that I decided I had enough. I would take control over my life, I would claim the right to choose. I would finally live.
It was a long journey. A lot has changed since then.
And I want to share what I have learned in the past thirteen years.
Because for me, overcoming or defeating my fear was impossible. It always fought back with a vengeance. I had to find a different solution.
Realization #1: Fear is not the enemy.
After that life-changing December evening, I started to research. I read countless books, took courses, and attended seminars. I needed to know what caused the constant fear and how to stop it.
I had always perceived fear as a menacing, painful, and crippling hostile force. A life-sucking alien parasite. An uncontrollable beast.
But I soon discovered that fear can be both healthy and pathological.
Healthy fear is a vital physiological reaction that has guaranteed survival of animal species for eons.
Realization #2: My pathological fear was linked to low self-worth.
I soon realized that my anxiety and panic attacks were a direct result of my lack of self-worth.
You see, when you suffer from low self-worth, the world becomes a menacing place.
I must have repeated the affirmation “I am worth” several hundred times a day for months. I now knew that, if I wanted to beat my fear of life, I first had to believe in myself. Only then would I feel confident enough to deal with everything that came my way
Realization #3: I feared fear itself.
Once I started healing my low self-worth and gaining trust in myself and my abilities, it became clear that I wasn’t actually terrified of the movies, strangers, or my overactive bladder alone. I was also horrified of fear itself and all its unpleasant consequences.
Have you ever had a panic attack? It sucks!
This was my life, constantly and unrelentingly. Until one day I decided to slay the beast.
Realization #4: Fighting the fear made it worse.
Every time I felt fear rising, I cursed it, screamed at it, and commanded it to leave now and never come back. But my beast didn’t take these insults lightly. It defended itself and the panic attacks escalated in frequency and intensity. I felt like a pathetic failure. I wrecked my mind for new ways to overcome the fear. The beast grew and I was about to surrender myself to be its prisoner for the rest of my life.
Until my mom rescued me.
Realization #5: Making friends with fear disarms it.
“Why don’t you name it?” she said. I was stunned. “You have tried to fight it,” she continued. “Maybe it’s time to befriend it. Talk to it. Tell it that everything will be okay. Let it know you are there for it. And listen to its concerns.”
I thought the idea was ridiculous. But I was willing to try anything. I was desperate. So, I named my pathological fear Klaus. It was the first name that popped into my head. Of course, I felt bonkers for talking to my fear like it was a small child. After all, I was talking to myself (not out loud, mind you)! But it worked! Klaus understood.
A Life Without (Pathological) Fear
Klaus and I spent several years together. He would warn me, raise doubts, and advise caution whenever I stepped out of my comfort zone.
But I was determined. I kept reminding myself that I was worth, that I was able to cope, that I was strong.
I started to do one scary thing a day. Small things at first. A different route to work, going for a walk without immediate toilet access, or asking a complete stranger for the time.
And finally, in June 2008, as I boarded a plane to Barcelona to present at an international conference in front of hundreds of strangers, I realized he was gone. Without notice, he had left and I wasn’t scared of life’s experiences any longer. The pathological fear of life itself had dissolved.
I still sometimes fondly remember my friend Klaus. But I never heard from him again. I hope he is well. “
For those who need support4, treatment becomes most difficult:
- Gradually and repeatedly exposing yourself to the feared object or situation in a safe and controlled way
- Building on BraveryLearning to manage anxiety takes a lot of hard work, persistence, and practice, practice, practice.
Here is where you could use the help of a mental health professional:
Counseling on Demand is the place to go.
We are online at CounselingonDemand.com. Connect in the safe, confidential and private place of your choice.
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- Matthew Hunt, Anxiety of Phobias: 5 Self-Help Tips; 2 Tips with Support, April 1, 2016, http://www.counselingondemand.com/anxiety/anxiety-of-phobias-5-self-help-tips-2-tips-with-support/
- Isaac fM. Marks, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK
Randolph M. Nesse
University of Michigan Medical School, Department of Psychiatry, Ann Arbor, USA, Fear and fitness: An evolutionary analysis of anxiety disorders
abstract at, Evolution & Human Behavior, ehbonline.org/article/0162-3095 (94)90002-7/abstract
- Berni Sewell, 5 Life-Changing Realizations About Fear and Anxiety, http://tinybuddha.com/blog/5-life-changing-realizations-fear-anxiety
- Op. cit. Hunt