“What would you do if you were not afraid?”.
“What would you do if you were not afraid?”.
I heard this question recently, and it really struck a chord with me. I have suffered from anxiety most of my life, but I never really made the connection between anxiety and fear. Anxiety, for me, is related a lot with fear.
Fear is one of the most powerful emotions.
It has a very strong effect on your mind and body. Fear is positive - it can create strong signals of response when we’re in emergencies. For instance, if we are caught in a fire or are being attacked, our “flight and fight” mode kicks in.
It can also take effect when you’re faced with non-dangerous events, like an interview, 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 feel impossible 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 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-
- 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; 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 even have problems having sex and you may very well lose your self-confidence.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is when you feel overwhelmed by the physical and mental feelings of fear. 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.
How can I help myself?
Face your fear
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. You will often find the situation you fear is not as bad as you had anticipated.
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 likely to 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.
Daily exercise alone may be powerful enough to drastically reduce anxiety. Studies have shown time and time again that there is an incredibly strong relationship between anxiety and exercise - one that could tip the scales towards living an anxiety free life.
Learning a few 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 like yoga, meditation.
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. But it can end up having the opposite effect with the after-effects of alcohol can make you feel even more afraid or anxious.
Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.