Prayer To Keep Me From Fear When Times Are Hard
How to overcome fear and anxiety
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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, 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, rather than right now.
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. You can learn to feel less fearful and to cope with fear so that it doesn’t stop you from living.
What makes you afraid?
Lots of things make us feel afraid. Being afraid of some things – fires – can keep you safe. Fearing failure can make you try to do well so that you won’t fail, but it can also stop you doing well if the feeling is too strong.
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 sorting out problems with fear.
How can we manage and reduce stress? Our free downloadable pocket guide offers you 101 tips: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-stress.
What makes you anxious?
Because anxiety is a type of fear, the things we’ve described about fear above are also true for anxiety.
The word ‘anxiety’ tends to be used to describe worry, or when fear is nagging and persists over time. 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 ?
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, sensing fear, 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 as well as a more nagging sense of fear, 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.
Why do I feel this when I’m not in any real danger?
Early humans needed the fast, powerful responses that fear causes, as they were often in situations of physical danger; however, we no longer face the same threats in modern-day living.
Despite this, our minds and bodies still work in the same way as our early ancestors, and we have the same reactions to our modern worries about bills, travel and social situations. But we can’t run away from or physically attack these problems!
The physical feelings of fear can be scary in themselves – especially if you are experiencing them and you don’t know why, or if they seem proportion to the situation. Instead of alerting you to a danger and preparing you to respond to it, your fear or anxiety can kick in for any perceived threat, which could be imaginary or minor.
Why won’t my fear go away and leave me feeling normal again?
Fear may be a one-off feeling when you are faced with something unfamiliar.
But it can also be an everyday, long-lasting problem – even if you can’t put your finger on why. Some people feel a constant sense of anxiety all the time, without any particular trigger.
There are plenty of triggers for fear in everyday life, and you can’t always work out exactly why you are frightened or how ly you are to be harmed. Even if you can see how proportion a fear is, the emotional part of your brain keeps sending danger signals to your body.
Sometimes you need mental and physical ways of tackling fear.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is when you feel overwhelmed by the physical and mental feelings of fear – the signs listed under ‘What do fear and anxiety feel ?’ People who have panic attacks say that they find it hard to breathe, and they may worry that they’re having a heart attack or are going to lose control of their body. See the ‘Support and information’ section at the end of this booklet if you want help with panic attacks.
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 your fears are taking over your life, then it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for help, or try one of the websites or numbers listed at the back of this booklet.
The same is true if a phobia is causing problems in your daily life, or if you are experiencing panic attacks.
Face your fear if you can
If you always avoid situations that scare you, you might stop doing things you want or need to do.
You won’t be able to test out whether the situation is always as bad as you expect, so you miss the chance to work out how to manage your fears and reduce your anxiety.
Anxiety problems tend to increase if you get into this pattern. 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. You can try setting yourself small, achievable goals for facing your fears. You could carry with you a list of things that help at times when you are ly to be become frightened or anxious.
This can be an effective way of addressing the underlying beliefs that are behind your anxiety.
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. It can help just to drop your shoulders and breathe deeply. Or imagine yourself in a relaxing place. You could also try learning things yoga, meditation, massage, or listen to the Mental Health Foundation’s wellbeing podcasts.
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. Some people call alcohol ‘Dutch courage’, but the after-effects of alcohol can make you feel even more afraid or anxious.
Some people find that complementary therapies or exercises, such as relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, or t’ai chi, help them to deal with their anxiety.
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 and other faith groups can connect you with a valuable support network.
Talking therapies, counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, are very effective for people with anxiety problems, including Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which takes you through a series of self-help exercises on screen. Visit your GP to find out more.
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.
You can learn a lot about managing anxiety from asking other people who have experienced it.
Local support groups or self-help groups bring together people with similar experiences so that they can hear each other’s stories, share tips and encourage each other to try out new ways to manage themselves. Your doctor, library or local Citizens Advice bureau will have details of support groups near you.
Mental Health Foundation
Our website offers information on mental health, mental health problems, self-help and how to get help.
The Samaritans provides emotional support 24 hours a day
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 08457 90 90 90
The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 01455 883300
UK Council for Psychotherapy
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 020 7014 9955
NHS 111 provides information 24 hours a day
Telephone: 111 Steimer, T. (2002). The Biology of Fear and Anxiety Related Behaviours. Dialogues Clin Neurosci, 4, 231–249.  Öhman, A. (2000). “Fear and anxiety: Evolutionary, cognitive, and clinical perspectives.” In: M. Lewis & J.M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.). Handbook of emotions (2nd Ed). New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 573–593.  Öhman, A. (2008). “Fear and anxiety: Overlaps and Dissociations.” In: M. Lewis, J.M. Haviland-Jones & L. Feldman Barrett (Eds.). Handbook of emotions (3rd Ed). New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 709–729.  Lazarus, R.S. & Averill, J.R. (1972). Emotion and Cognition: With Special Reference to Anxiety. In: C.D. Spielberger (Ed.). Anxiety: Current Trends in Theory and Research, Vol II. Academic Press: New York, pp. 242–279.  Gray, J.A. (1988). The Psychology of Fear and Stress (2nd ed). Cambridge University Press: New York.  Emmelkamp, P.M.G. (2003). “Behavior therapy with adults.” In: M. Lambert (Ed.). Handbook of Psychotherapy and behaviour change (5th Ed). New York: Wiley, pp. 393–446.  De Oliveria, I.R., Powell, V.B., Wenzel, A., Caldas, M., Seixas, C., Almeida, C., Bonfim, T., Grangeon, M.C., Castro, M., Galvao, A., de Oliveria Moraes, R. & Sudak, D. (2011).
Efficacy of the trial-based thought record, a new cognitive therapy strategy designed to change core beliefs, in social phobia. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2710.
Why Your Fears Won’t Come True
Fear doesn’t work the way we think it does. I’ll teach you something cool about fear that you can start putting to use right away.
When something scares you, you usually just have an aversion to the notion of that thing. Just the thought of making certain phone calls, confronting certain people, or making certain commitments makes the butterflies bubble up.
This is the point where we usually back down, and distract ourselves from the thought of it by checking email or doing some cleaning or organizing that suddenly seems important.
Quitting my last job to go traveling was something I was afraid of for a long time before I did it. It was a very small company, my boss had been good to me, and I knew it was going to be a blow that came nowhere. The thought of it made me nervous, and I decided to put it off till the next day, ten or twelve times.
Most fears keep us at arm’s length that: we back down at just the idea of doing something nerve-wracking. The fear has done its job — to keep us from going there — and so we don’t look any closer at what it is we’re really afraid of about that idea.
If you do look closely at almost any fear, it’s always a specific moment you’re fearing. A moment with awful feelings in it — awkwardness, pain, shame, guilt, horror, angst. Life unfolds only in moments, so what else could the problem be except some of the moments that you might run into?Ultimately that’s all you are ever fearing: moments that you believe will force you to experience feelings you really don’t want to experience. If you really break it down there’s nothing else that drives us but the appeal of feelings we want to experience and the fear of feelings we don’t want to experience.
Whatever the feeling is, it’s a feeling you’ve already experienced at some point in your life. You couldn’t be afraid of it if you hadn’t.
The longer we live, the more nasty experiences we have, and the more fears we carry around. But we forget that it’s really acute experiences we’re trying to avoid, and instead we let entire categories of actions and notions get dismissed from our lives, because they represent those experiences.
The cat who was afraid of grass for all the wrong reasons
We had a cat who was afraid of the front lawn. She would creep up to it, sniff it a bit, then tear across it she was being chased.
I watched her do this a few times before learning that my Dad had once turned on the sprinkler hose while she was lying beside it.
After that, to her the lawn was a bad place, because it represented the threat of a terrible experience she didn’t want to have again.
She got over it, probably after accidentally having a few good experiences around the lawn. Animals are probably better at forgetting this stuff. Humans cling to fears because our thinking is so hopelessly lost in symbols and categories. We hold onto this idea that we can fence off the painful areas of life if we’re careful enough.
They aren’t all big things. There were so many foods I didn’t eat for years just because my first run-in with them was bad one. I didn’t eat onions for a second time until I was an adult, just because I ate a piece of raw white onion when I was little.
I didn’t recognize that there are a million different ways an onion-eating experience could actually go down — after all, who eats large chunks of raw, white onion? — but I had already cordoned off “onion” as a no-go zone for me, because I refused to ever subject myself to the burning, acidic experience of my first close encounter with an onion.Onions in all forms became fearsome symbols of that lone, unbearable experience, and so I steered my whole life clear of them. This is the distance at which we normally detect and respond to our fears — from far enough away that we don’t really understand what it is we’re fearing. I was fearing the return of a single, awful moment I had when I was a kid.
One day more than a decade later, I bit the bullet and tried something with onion on it, because it was either that or eat nothing. And I had a different experience. It wasn’t bad. “Onion” came to symbolize a much better experience.
What you fear can’t really happen
What I’ve come to realize is that all my fears of the future are actually fears of the past.
Each of us has a whole bank of awful moments in our memories, each of which are so painful that we can’t accept that we could experience the same pain again.
If the thought of something you want to do rouses fear in you, think: what is the experience — the feeling — I’m actually fearing here? You don’t have to psychoanalyze yourself and try to figure out the childhood memory it comes from, but it doesn’t take much thought to identify the precise experience you can’t bear to risk happening.
By obeying our fears from arm’s length, we end up cordoning off enormous areas of possibility. Life is inescapably risky and painful, not to mention 100% fatal. So don’t think you can dodge pain, awkwardness or by backing down from something a bit scary.
The real bad stuff isn’t going to be something you had the foresight to worry about anyway. From Baz Luhrmann’s famous speech: “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”
Now, of course there are all sorts of unpleasant scenarios that can happen. But there is no way you can cordon off enough of life to eliminate the risk of pain, and that’s what our fears are trying to do.
And I can tell you, as somebody who’s been a lifelong master cordon-offer, building all those walls will guarantee you way more pain than almost anything else. There’s no better way to limit your skills, experience, personal power, income and prospects. How do you think people get stuck in jobs and relationships they know are killing them?What you fear, whatever horrible scenario you think you’re avoiding — it isn’t going to happen anyway. Similar outcomes may happen, but it will never unfold quite you expected, because that would make you a genuine psychic.
The difficult phone conversation you’ve been putting off: there is no way it will go down exactly you expect it will. It will take a different line, a different tone, either slightly or entirely. But your fear, as it is, will not come true.
Whenever you notice you have some unnerving scenario brewing in your mind, remember one inalienable fact — no matter what scenario you’re picturing:
This is not the way it’s actually going to go down.
It can’t be, because you can’t predict the future. All situations are far more complex that you can possibly calculate, and fear has a way of completely screwing with your higher faculties. Whatever horrible moments you’re afraid of, they cannot match the way the situation is actually going to go down.
Fear of the future is fear of the past. You can’t fear the future because you don’t know the future. You’re just deathly afraid that certain parts of the past will happen again.
Next time you travel to somewhere new, either a new city, a new neighborhood, or even a new building, try to picture what it will be — what it will look , what it will feel to be there.
No matter what kind of information you have about it, your imagined impression will be wrong. Because you’re building it only with what’s already in your head.
What it’s actually built of, what it actually looks and feels , is not there in your head so you just can’t get it right.This is what fearsome thoughts are made of: stuff that’s already in your head — experiences you’ve already had, and categorically not experiences you’re yet to have. You can’t know the moment you’re afraid of, because it doesn’t exist yet. So your fear cannot come true.
Whatever happens, the form it will take will be different. It might be bad, it might be good. It might open a door for you you never knew was there.
But I think we typically over-fear by default. Time and time again in my life I have been surprised at how easy and rewarding most of these scary propositions end up being when I go ahead with them anyway. When they really hurt me is when I keep them at arm’s length, untackled, where they stalk me and mock me.
Those dreaded conversations, when I finally take them on, never turn out quite I thought. I’ve rehearsed long tangents of tricky conversations that never happened. I’ve even flow-charted intimidating phone calls in my head — if he says A I’ll say B, if he says C, I’ll say D.
This is almost always useless. He never says A, or C. That’s because whatever I’ve predicted, that’s not the way it’s going to go down. Because I’m just chicken, not psychic.
I can guess at what’s going to happen, and of course I’m apt to guess that something terrible will happen, just so that I can convince myself it’s a dangerous action to take and I can feel justified in relieving myself from the responsibility of doing it. It lets me off the hook for the moment, and I gain another roaming spectre in my life and another long-lasting no-go zone. Well done.
Fear is fun
When you feel fear, take that as a reminder to bring curiosity to the moment. Something new is on the other side of it. If you act in spite of the fear, something exciting is going to go down. Nine times ten you’ll end up gaining some situational benefit, and ten times ten, you’ll feel stronger immediately.
And maybe there is a passing unpleasant feeling that will come with it. It’s probably a good trade-off anyway. Some of the best prizes in my life have come just on the other side of something I was afraid of, and they didn’t end up being difficult or painful at all. They were so close to me the whole time, and I would never have known what they were offering.
Even if the situation does unravel into a debacle of some kind, if you can remember to keep that sense of curiosity alive throughout it, if you can drop the insane hope that you can control things by fearing them, if you can keep your sense of humor close by, it can actually be amusing to watch everything fall apart.
Think of what a powerful notion that is: fear is fun.
Have fun today.
Photo by Jonycunha