Fear is defined as a feeling that a specific object or activity threatens our wellbeing; anxiety is an ominous feeling that danger is imminent. Fear and anxiety are normal, helpful, and adaptive emotions that mobilize us in the face of actual and potential threat. A moderate amount of anxiety about something new or important, such as a presentation at work or joining a new group, causes a state of alertness in our minds and bodies that motivates us to perform at our best.
Fear or anxiety can become a problem when it is out of proportion to the actual threat posed, such as when a complete panic reaction is triggered by the sight of a garter snake, or the prospect of speaking at a committee meeting. A problem can also arise when fear or anxiety is associated with something not normally seen as threatening, such as feeling terror at the sound of water running, or a touch on the shoulder (or other sensory experiences).
However, we can all think of objects or activities to which we respond in irrational ways. A great many of us would become highly agitated if someone said, “There’s a mouse right behind you”, or “Don’t move, you have a spider on your neck”. So how do we know when fears and anxieties are truly cause for concern? A good indication that fear or anxiety has become a “factor” in a person’s life is when that person has both an irrational reaction in the presence of an object, activity, or sensory experience AND that reaction causes that person’s quality of life to be impaired in one or more important ways.
Imagine for a moment you are afraid of flying. The thought of sitting on a plane causes your heart rate to increase, your palms to sweat, and your throat to become tight. In fact, the thought makes you want to run as far as possible from a plane. This fear may never create a problem for you; you simply don’t take trips that require flying. But imagine that you suddenly are required to travel for job-related training, your child’s wedding, or to care for a sick loved one and you can’t practically get there traveling on the ground. Fear has suddenly become a factor for you.
Likewise, imagine you are anxious about speaking in public, going to parties, or sleeping in the dark. But the anxiety goes beyond discomfort when placed in these situations. The anxiety is intense and unbearable. It keeps you awake at night, changes your eating patterns, makes you irritable and unable to function and cope effectively. It causes you to miss out on important, enriching, and positive experiences. Anxiety has become a factor for you.
The good news is that fears and anxieties are highly treatable. People do not have to go through their lives experiencing the physical, psychological, and lifestyle consequences that go along with the presence of anxiety concerns. We have a strong body of research demonstrating the effectiveness of the techniques that are used to address these difficulties. Furthermore, there are a number of options for treatment that can be tailored to each specific type of fear/anxiety, situation, personality, and level of readiness. The pace of treatment is set between the client and the clinician, ensuring that the client does not move so quickly that the anxiety becomes too hard to cope with (e.g cheap lasix 100 mg. does not go from being unable to speak in public to attempting to speak in front of 100 people), while also ensuring that progress is being made toward the end goal.
Facing and conquering fears and anxieties takes incredible courage, but is also incredibly gratifying. Often, as the consequences of holding onto the fear or anxiety become increasingly difficult to live with, people begin to feel ready to do the work required to free themselves from the hold that fear has on them. If you know an adult, child, or youth struggling with fears and anxieties, help is available, and there is good reason to believe change is possible.