How do you face terrible fears
Overcoming fear - what really helps
Each of us feels it every now and then: fear. Like anger or sadness, it is one of the basic human emotions. It is important and meaningful for our lives as long as it occurs to a healthy extent. However, it becomes critical when fear turns into illness. But when are fears considered pathological and how do they arise? How can you overcome your fear - permanently?
Why are we afraid
Fear is an emotional response to an impending threat. By alerting and mobilizing us in case of danger, fear fulfills an important protective function. Of our ancestors, those who survived the longest were those who were able to recognize a precarious situation (e.g. an encounter with a wild predator) at an early stage and thus react appropriately. Modern humans, on the other hand, live comparatively safely. But even today we are confronted with situations that can scare us. This includes visiting the dentist or speaking in front of large crowds. Financial worries and fears about the future also play a major role.
While we instinctively shy away from an abyss, other fears only develop through observation. The fear of mice is not innate, but is learned in the course of life. Fear can also be caused by severe physical illnesses, drugs and medication, or it can also be psychological. Common psychological triggers are life crises, social stress and depression.
What happens with a fear reaction?
Our subconscious decides in a matter of seconds what is perceived as a threat or not. In the event of a fear reaction, various automatic processes are immediately set in motion. The body pours out adrenaline, the heart beats faster, our muscles tense.
Typical symptoms of an anxiety reaction are:
- increased blood pressure
- weak knees
Only in a second step does the conscious (evaluating) part of our brain come into play. We can consider whether it is a false positive. If so, our body relaxes again. In the case of pathological anxiety, however, this mechanism is disturbed. Affected people often experience real anxiety attacks, combined with feelings of suffocation, racing heart and intense tension. The feeling of being able to overcome fear is becoming a long way off.
When does fear become pathological?
Fear and worry are part of life. They can paralyze us for a short time and prevent us from continuing. But one thing is characteristic of "healthy" fear - it will pass! Most of the time we can cope with it well on our own and return to normal after a troubled phase. However, it becomes dangerous when fears permanently determine everyday life, are felt to be uncontrollable and reduce one's own quality of life. Then there could be a serious anxiety disorder, which often gets worse over time.
Anxiety disorders are common. Around one in five will experience a panic attack at some point in their life.
The most common anxiety disorders include:
- Panic disorder
- social anxiety disorders
What defines anxiety disorders: Those affected react with great fear, although objectively speaking there is no threat at all. There can be an excessive fear of bacteria, large areas or human contact. Those with anxiety disorders try to avoid the fearful situations and places at all costs. Although this creates short-term relief, it prevents the root causes from being found and treated. With this avoidance strategy, those affected restrict themselves more and more in their everyday life. In extreme cases, it is even no longer possible to leave the apartment.
How can I overcome my fear?
Many of those affected suffer from mild to moderate fears. In such cases, simple self-help measures are often enough to get them under control over the long term:
Accept and understand fear
An important first step in overcoming fear is to embrace it. It is about allowing these feelings and accepting them for the moment. Your own fear is not a dangerous opponent that needs to be fought. It is part of us and therefore controllable by us. The thought of not being helplessly at the mercy of fear makes it easier to deal with it and strengthens self-confidence.
Overcoming fears takes time. Progress is often less than expected, especially at the beginning, which can be very frustrating. However, self-blame is counterproductive. Instead, it makes sense to approach your own situation with benevolence and understanding. It is also important to question your own fears and understand their causes.
Even if it's difficult: if you want to overcome your fear, you have to face it. Instead of avoiding a fear-inducing situation, those affected should therefore seek it out consciously. Example: Anyone who suffers from a telephone phobia should pick up the phone whenever the opportunity arises.
Allowing your own fear and enduring it is a great challenge. It therefore makes sense to proceed in stages. Even the first small successes strengthen self-confidence and motivate to continue. In this way, fears can be reduced step by step.
Movement Against Fear
Regular sporting units not only have a positive effect on the body, but also on the psyche. Sport and exercise have been shown to counteract mental illnesses such as depression and panic disorders. Endurance sports in particular have proven to be helpful in coping with anxiety. From the point of view of experts, movements not only relieve physical tension, but can also reduce fear reactions in the long term.
In addition to exercise, a generally healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep and a balanced diet also helps reduce anxiety.
Overcome fear with relaxation and breathing exercises
Anxiety goes hand in hand with strong physical tension. The ability to relax is therefore of great importance for people who suffer from frequent feelings of anxiety.
In acute anxiety, relaxation procedures can significantly reduce typical symptoms such as palpitations and sweating. The body is calmed down and the anxiety attack is weakened.
Regular relaxation exercises can also lead to a generally more relaxed posture and thus prevent future anxiety states. People who go through life relaxed are less likely to suffer from anxiety disorders.
The most popular relaxation methods include autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation (PME) according to Edmund Jacobson. With the help of PME, those affected learn how to consciously relax their own muscles and thus achieve a state of inner calm and serenity. Learning a breathing technique can also help alleviate anxiety. You can find some simple and effective exercises in our article on Yoga for Anxiety.
Effective stress management to overcome fear
Fear and stress are closely related. Many anxiety states are triggered by excessive stress. Effective stress and time management is therefore particularly important when dealing with anxiety problems. With the help of good daily planning, typical stress triggers (e.g. time pressure) can largely be avoided. Those affected should also take regular breaks and reward themselves for small successes. Relaxation exercises and exercise in the fresh air help reduce stress. We have compiled further tips against stress in a separate article.
Overcome fear with psychotherapy
These self-help measures are not always sufficient to overcome your own fear. In severe cases, such as diagnosed anxiety disorders, those affected should seek professional help (e.g. in the form of psychotherapy).
Methods of cognitive behavioral therapy have proven to be particularly effective. This includes the gradual confrontation with fear, the so-called exposure process. Those affected expose themselves to a fear-inducing situation until their fear slowly subsides. This process is accompanied by an experienced therapist and is therefore more promising than the confrontation carried out alone. The aim is to break the established avoidance behavior and to achieve a habituation effect. The method is mainly used for phobias and panic disorders and has been proven to help alleviate anxiety.
In addition to therapy, the use of medication may be necessary. Exchanging ideas with other people affected is also helpful. A list of self-help groups can be requested here. The self-help measures listed can also usefully supplement the course of therapy.
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