I lay on the bed, careful not to move a muscle in case it alerted the intruder to my presence.
Breathing was difficult. I wanted to take huge, terrified gulps of air, but that would have made too much noise. The trespasser was right outside the door.
My heart was beating so loudly. Could she hear it?
I was sweating, yet I was chilled to the bone.
I wanted to scream out for help. But knew that my antagoniser would get to me before anyone else. And my voice was gone.
I’m not sure how long I lay there, paralysed with fear that the evil presence would harm me.
She had the fearful and ugly features of all the best wicked witches and she sat upon a hall stand, right outside my bedroom door. Right where my mother’s dried flowers arrangement had been just hours before.
I was probably about seven or eight years old. I don’t remember how I ‘escaped’ the clutches of that ‘evil witch’. She had magically transformed back into dried flowers the next day.
But I do remember the fear as though it were yesterday. I often use it to gauge the severity of my fears today.
HOW OUR BODIES REACT TO FEAR
Arguably the strongest emotion we humans feel, fear has the power to paralyse and to motivate.
It is an all-important safety mechanism that helps alert us to danger. Fear of getting burned stops (most of us) from placing our hands in the fire.
Should we face the fear of immediate physical harm, the biochemical reaction induces the ‘flight or flight’ response. The body prepares itself to run or to stand ground and fight.
Physical reactions include sweating, increased heart rate, high adrenaline levels and hyperventilation.
These reactions are automatic and this fear can even result in giving people super powers.
FIGHTING FEAR TO STOP PHOBIAS
Emotionally triggered fears work differently for everyone. While fear of failure can stop some from even trying something new, it can trigger motivation in others.
Left unchecked, fears can become phobias – extreme or irrational fears.
Phobias accentuate the normal fear response and can appear irrational and unreasonable.
Examples of unusual phobias include:
- Fear of relatives – syngenesophobia. Understandable in some families.
- Fear of colours – chromatophobia. That would make your world quite grey.
- Fear of yellow – xanthophobia. It inspires happiness in most, but for some it is scary.
- Fear of string – linonophobia. This would limit creative pursuits.
- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth – arachibutyrophobia. I love peanut butter.
- Fear of being watched by a duck – anatidaephobia. Wouldn’t want to live near a lake.
- Fear of buttons – koumpounophobia. This too would limit crafting projects.
- Fear of the number four – tetraphobia. There is a fear of 13 too, which is easier to understand.
- Fear of being out of mobile phone contact – nomophobia. I wonder how many new phobias will be inspired by technology.
- Fear of long words – Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. It just seems mean to give it such a long name.
Those who experience phobias can become victims of phobophobia – a fear of fear. To be more precise, it is a fear of the symptoms brought on by a phobia. This is extremely debilitating. As people become afraid they will experience a fear response, they go out of their way to avoid that, ultimately avoiding living life to its fullest.
Fighting fear is a must to avoid it morphing into a phobia, which is much more difficult to overcome without help.
Even the bravest have tasted the essence of fear. Working through it is what gives them courage.
CAUSES OF FEAR
What causes emotional fears? The simple answer is we do. With our thoughts and sometimes, with a little help from outside forces.
Many claim public speaking tops the list when it comes to human fear (as opposed to phobias). At least in America.
This fear is listed above death (at number five) and loneliness (at number seven).
While these things don’t seem to faze me too much, I recognise a bunch of seemingly innocuous little fears I hold that could easily morph into phobias if I didn’t fight them.
For a while, getting into lifts was an issue. I was sure I would be squashed between closing doors. Then it was elevators. I was certain I would stand on the crack and fall when it dropped to form a step.
Seemingly minor fears, for sure, but here’s what happens. You start to avoid the lifts and elevators (fitness gurus would be cheering), then your friends and family start to notice and mention it. Before too long, you don’t want to go out anymore because you feel foolish.
At another stage, I became terrified of getting tickets out of machines while in the car or paying road tolls (before the days of Etags). I was sure I would incite the anger of drivers behind me by dropping the money or ticket. Driving, anywhere, became a major ordeal for me.
I have to admit it is a bit embarrassing owning up to the little cocktail of fears that threatened to turn me into a hermit.
Looking back, I wonder how I could let such trivial things stop me from living life to the fullest.
FIGHTING FEAR – HOW TO RECLAIM YOUR POWER
I guess I am able to fess up now because I have overcome these fears. (Never fear, I have more. :).) I recognised how one fear was piling on top of another, threatening to destroy my life.
The solve? I applied for a job as a supermarket demonstrator that forced me to do these things repeatedly until they no longer scared me.
I used a fear of failure to motivate me to overcome other fears.
It seems I have been fighting fears of some kind all my life.
I have learned some good tactics along the way.
FIGHTING FEAR – BE AWARE
Possibly the most important step is to be aware of how you are feeling and behaving. Then you can recognise the fear and fight it before it takes hold. If I had been paying more attention, I would have taken elevators and escalators, even when I felt ‘uncomfortable’ doing so. I didn’t realise that discomfort was the precursor to a fear that would leave me feeling foolish and powerless.
FIGHTING FEAR – RECOGNISE THE CULPRIT
Once you’ve identified your fears, recognise which ones are debilitating and influencing your quality of life. They are the ones to tackle first. Not all fear needs to be dealt with. For instance, I am fearful of jumping out of a plane, but refusing to do so does not affect my quality of life, so what does it matter?
FIGHTING FEAR – FACE THEM AND FIGHT THEM
When you know which fears are holding you back, find creative ways to overcome them. As I explained earlier, I used my fear of failure to help me overcome a bunch of seemingly trivial fears. Baby steps are needed, sometimes. Rather than taking a giant leap, you may be better with gentle persuasion. However, some kind of action is required in order to fight fear.
FIGHTING FEAR – CHANGE YOUR THOUGHT PATTERNS
Recognise that fear stems from thought – what we believe may happen. That makes it vital to monitor your thoughts and replace negative ones with positive solutions. For instance, a current fear of mine is not getting enough enrolments in my arts and crafts workshops. When I run with this thought I want to stop holding them. Instead, I make myself think about how happy the kids are when they are creating with me. I remind myself this is a passion and if I’m making a difference to just one child, then it is amazing. Sometimes I’ll allow myself to look at the worst case scenario – in this case, no enrolments at all. Then I plan how to deal with that so I can put the thought to rest. By not giving up, I am fighting the very fear – fear of failure – that I used to overcome other trepidations.
FIGHTING FEAR – TRUST YOURSELF
Avoid being influenced by outside sources that offer fear as a motivator. Learn to trust yourself and your instincts. This reclaims your power so that politicians, marketers, scammers and others cannot force you to do things that don’t align with your own set of morals and ideals.
FIGHTING FEAR – CONGRATULATE YOURSELF
Take time out to congratulate yourself when you’ve conquered a fear, no matter how small. You may not have climbed Mt Everest, but you have tackled your Mt Everest. And that’s all that matters.
FIGHTING FEAR – SHOW COMPASSION
Above all, be compassionate when it comes to understanding other people’s fears. I don’t understand how anyone can be frightened of peanut butter sticking to the roof of their mouth. However, I don’t judge. The person who fears that may not understand how terrifying stepping onto an elevator was for me.
Did you read my post, How Love Cured My Anxiety and Gave Me Courage? In that article, I reveal a secret weapon I use when threatened with social fears.
Wishing you a fearless life and a gleeful week, Tamuria.