How to overcome fear and anxiety
Fear is one of the most powerful emotions. It has a very strong effect on your mind and body. Fear can create strong signals of response when we’re in emergencies – for instance, if we are caught in a fire or are being attacked. It can also take effect when you’re faced with non-dangerous events, like exams, public speaking, a new job, a date, or even a party. It’s a natural response to a threat that can be either perceived or real.
Anxiety is a word we use for some types of fear that are usually to do with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future. Fear and anxiety can last for a short time and then pass, but they can also last much longer and you can get stuck with them. In some cases they can take over your life, affecting your ability to eat, sleep, concentrate, travel, enjoy life, or even leave the house or go to work or school. This can hold you back from doing things you want or need to do, and it also affects your health. Some people become overwhelmed by fear and want to avoid situations that might make them frightened or anxious. It can be hard to break this cycle, but there are lots of ways to do it.
What makes you afraid?
Lots of things make us feel afraid. Being afraid of some things – like fires – can keep you safe. What you’re afraid of and how you act when you’re afraid of something can vary per person. Just knowing what makes you afraid and why can be the first step to solve this problem.
What makes you anxious?
Because anxiety is a type of fear, the things we’ve described about fear above are also true for anxiety. It is used when the fear is about something in the future rather than what is happening right now. Anxiety is a word often used by health professionals when they’re describing persistent fear. The ways that you feel when you’re frightened and anxious are very similar, as the basic emotion is the same.
What do fear and anxiety feel like?
When you feel frightened or seriously anxious, your mind and body work very quickly. These are some of the things that might happen:
Your heart beats very fast – maybe it feels irregular •
You breathe very fast •
Your muscles feel weak •
You sweat a lot •
Your stomach churns or your bowels feel loose •
You find it hard to concentrate on anything else •
You feel dizzy •
You feel frozen to the spot •
You can’t eat •
You have hot and cold sweats •
You get a dry mouth •
• You get very tense muscles
These things occur because your body is preparing you for an emergency, so it makes your blood flow to the muscles, increases blood sugar, and gives you the mental ability to focus on the thing that your body perceives as a threat.
With anxiety, in the longer term, you may have some of the above symptoms and you may get irritable, have trouble sleeping, develop headaches, or have trouble getting on with work and planning for the future; you might have problems having sex, and might lose self-confidence.
What is a phobia?
A phobia is an extreme fear of a particular animal, thing, place or situation. People with phobias have an overwhelming need to avoid any contact with the specific cause of the anxiety or fear. The thought of coming into contact with the cause of the phobia makes you anxious or panicky.
How do I know if I need help?
Fear and anxiety can affect all of us every now and then. It is only when it is severe and long-lasting that doctors class it as a mental health problem. If you feel anxious all the time for several weeks, or if it feels like your fears are taking over your life, then it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for help.
Face your fear if you can
Exposing yourself to your fears can be an effective way of overcoming this anxiety.
Try to learn more about your fear or anxiety. Keep an anxiety diary or thought record to note down when it happens and what happens.
Increase the amount of exercise you do. Exercise requires some concentration, and this can take your mind off your fear and anxiety.
Learning relaxation techniques can help you with the mental and physical feelings of fear. imagine yourself in a relaxing place. You could also try learning things like yoga, meditation, or massage.
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and try to avoid too much sugar. Resulting dips in your blood sugar can give you anxious feelings. Try to avoid drinking too much tea and coffee, as caffeine can increase anxiety levels.
Avoid alcohol, or drink in moderation
It’s very common for people to drink when they feel nervous but the after-effects of alcohol can make you feel even more afraid or anxious.
If you are religious or spiritual, this can give you a way of feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. Faith can provide a way of coping with everyday stress, and attending church, mosque, synagogue, and other faith groups can connect you with a valuable support network.
Talking therapies, like counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, are very effective for people with anxiety problems.
Drug treatments are used to provide short-term help, rather than looking at the root of the anxiety problems. Drugs may be most useful when they are combined with other treatments or support.