Fear – what is your first reaction to this word? Is it something that terrifies you? An event or place that you avoid? A 90s thriller film where you fell in love with Mark Wahlberg? I might be aging myself with that last one. Whatever you conjure up in thinking of fear, it is something that all of us encounter. Fear is a natural physical and emotional response to things, thoughts, places, and people that we perceive as dangerous threatening. Without fear, we would constantly put ourselves in danger without even realizing it. We all have at least one thing that we fear, regardless of what this thing is.
I was thinking of fear because anxiety and fear are related; therefore, I think of fears pretty frequently. I try not to let fear dictate my life, because that is really no way to live. The best way to help manage daily anxiety is to address what is fearful or stressful and find ways to manage this. I like to group them into two categories: the smaller and manageable fears, and the larger, less likely to happen fears.
Smaller fears can even be categorized as anxieties – these are things that I try to avoid or do not like interacting with. For example, I fear spiders. And beetles. And really any insects. Okay, all insects that have multiple legs and a tendency to creep around your home and personal belongings. This is a manageable fear – I can spray for insects, I can make my family and/or pets kill them if they are in the house, and I can avoid places that are known to hold many insects. I have even been trying to remind myself that insects are not inherently evil and have their own purpose in life; that spider in the top of my fifteen-foot ceiling can make a home there because he will kill the other bugs in my house, and I cannot reach him even with my stepladder. See, manageable. My other manageable fears include getting sick in public places, not having enough money to provide for our family, falling down from high places (I have a history of falling down stairs and bleachers), fear of flying, and dog vomit. Yes, I really meant that last one. Regardless of how you might rank these fears, I can manage them all with a little thinking, thought processing, and problem solving.
Now, the larger fears – the fears that keep you up at night, that you have no control over, that you would pay any amount to have never occur. As I said before, everyone has a fear. There is something that even the bravest of people fears. If therapy has taught me anything over the years, it is that everything can be broken down into steps or processes that are easier to manage. This is how I address the bigger fears, by analyzing the cause and effect, the who/what/where/when/why/how, the real reason for the fear and how to face it. This often helps (at least in the moment) and by looking at a fear from a analytical perspective, it helps to separate myself from it and to view it more objectively.
Let’s take the big one: death. I am absolutely terrified of death. I have experienced death with relatives, classmates, friends, etc. It is not a foreign concept, and I know that every living being and creation on this planet lives and dies. When I think of my own death, I panic. The idea of not existing anymore is petrifying. Even if you believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, you are still not a living “you” in this world, no matter how screwed up the world is. I know it is going to happen, hopefully much later in my life, but it is something that I am very fearful of. On the other hand, I am married to man who has accepted the idea of death and is at peace with this. Nothing he says can make me feel better about it. Death is my biggest, most unmanageable fear.
How do I deal with this? I was in a group therapy about two years ago, and we spent a whole session talking about death. Apparently, this is not an uncommon fear among anxiety-ridden people. We all had questions, thoughts, and concerns ranging from mild to extreme. Our therapist explained it this way – there is nothing you can do to stop death. Not one thing. No matter what religion you practice, what you believe in, if you are cautious or reckless, fearful or fearless, you can count on one thing – we will all die someday. The best way to handle this is to realize that it WILL happen to you and to live the best life you possibly can, in any way or form that materializes for you. I initially brushed this off as another cliche, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is true. Death is something entirely out of my control, and all I can do to prolong it is to live a healthy, fulfilled life. I would rather go out of this life with a full, happy life to reflect on than one lived in fear. As simple as this statement was, it has really helped me to let go of that fear and think of it less than I did previously.
The fear my kids like to harp on is my fear for their safety. You might say that this is manageable, and it sometimes is. They laugh at how I am a nervous wreck when we are on heights (the sparsely railed trails along Cinque Terre were not as enjoyable for me). They roll their eyes when I insist on knowing as much about them as I can. They tease me when we hike and I remind them constantly to “be careful.” This might be just Mom 101, but I am especially fearful for them. Part of my anxiety is a lack of control, and I cannot control everything (nor should I, because that is crazy). When your children are teetering over a ledge that is miles high, you tend to stress. When you are one person with four children who all tend to go different ways in public places, you might freak out. When you are already afraid of death and your children try to drown themselves in the Pacific Ocean, your nerves are shot. I try to remind myself that the worst case scenario, always playing in my mind, will not happen. I also remind myself that my children are smart and pretty well-behaved, and they do tolerate my quirks about heights and public places. Regardless, I am pretty sure that fear for my children’s safety will be an unmanageable fear
until they move out for the rest of my life.
Fears – no matter how small or large – are real and a challenge for everyone. I did not even scratch the surface of the fears I downplay regularly (vomiting at work? getting fired? becoming obese?), but I think you understand what I am driving at. Fear can be found everywhere, but it is up to us to negotiate and manage fear. Living in fear is a horrible life, and I do not want to be crippled by things that I cannot control or cannot change. I choose to be daring – haha! No, I choose to manage fear. Daring is not in my personality.
What are you fears, big or small? How do you manage them?