Recognize when fears become overwhelming. It’s normal to have fears. You may experience fear when you ride a bike for the first time or when you start a new job. However, when fears begin to take over your life and affect your functioning, they become a problem. If your fears feel overwhelming, the distress from the fear can interfere with your ability to function and you may experience intense anxiety or nervousness. Reflect on your fears and notice how much they affect your life. Are your fears keeping you from moving forward with what you want in your life? The following are some considerations:
Your fear causes intense anxiety or panic.
You recognize that your fear is not rational.
You avoid specific places or situations.
Avoidance of the fear causes distress and interferes with your functioning.
The fear has persisted 6 months or more.
Understand symptoms of fear. Fears often manifest as phobias, which can include situations (fear of public speaking or raising your hand), animals (fear of snakes or spiders), blood, injections, etc. When you experience fear, physiological, mental, and emotional reactions occur, which can include:
Overwhelming anxiety, panic
Feeling pressured to do it
Needing to escape
Feeling like you may faint or die
Feeling powerless to your fear, even if you know it’s irrational
Reflect on any traumatic events. If you’ve experienced a car crash, driving a car may become fearful or you may avoid it altogether. Or perhaps you were robbed walking home, and the thought of walking home again creates panic.There are many ways that fears develop, and it’s natural to avoid previously harmful experiences.
While a fear response is natural for this kind of event, some events may be unavoidable. Recognize that your fear is valid, but also needs to be addressed.
Consider that origins can begin young. You may have an intense fear of snakes but not know why. Some evidence suggests that fears can be shared between parents and children with a biological link. Other evidence suggests that children in particular decode environmental information and develop fears based on what they observe may be a threat. By watching adults interact with an object or situation, the child learns to create associations such as “fearful” or “potentially harmful” regardless of an actual posed risk.
Realize that it’s okay to have fears. Fear is an adaptive function that prolongs our lives. Do you walk up to a cliff’s edge and suddenly feel fearful? This is adaptive fear, and it tells you, “This could be dangerous and cost you your life. Take caution.” Fear triggers a “fight-or-flight” response, which readies our bodies to take action in order to protect ourselves.
Realize that fear can be good, and acknowledge the positive and protective role it has.