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Jennefer Bacsain

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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 – like 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.[4]

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:[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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