Is fear a good thing or a bad thing
7 strategies for when fear gets out of hand
The corona crisis and the associated changes are currently creating old or new fears for many people. Regardless of whether you have known the feeling of overwhelming, possessive fear for a long time, or whether you are confronted with it from scratch - let's take a closer look at what fear actually is, what it is good for, and in the next step, which strategies you use can use when fear gets out of hand.
What is fear
First of all, according to Paul Ekman, fear is one of the 7 basic emotions or basic feelings, that is, it is viewed as an essential part of human existence and generally as one of the emotions that can be found in all cultures. Other such basic emotions are, for example, anger, disgust, sadness, contempt, joy and surprise.
What does that mean? The first step is that we all have these feelings. Sure, the way they are expressed can vary from culture to culture, but there is probably no one who has not experienced these feelings before.
Feeling fear is therefore quite normal. Like the other basic emotions, fear has a fundamentally useful function. In this way, she can warn you to be careful in dangerous situations, or signal your limits and have you ask for help. So it's not about getting rid of fears, but about letting them be there in certain situations and to the right extent and taking them seriously.
It only becomes problematic if fear takes over in inappropriate situations, or if there is too little fear and the healthy warning system is no longer effective. Related to the current situation in the corona pandemic, too much fear means that you may not be able to leave the house at all because you do not want to get infected, or that you do not want to go shopping because you are wearing the mask or wearing a mask scare you. On the other hand, too little fear can lead to you putting yourself in unnecessary danger and, for example, partying in large groups and thus infecting yourself and even others.
Not everyone is afraid of the same
The interesting thing about fear is that although it is the same as a basic emotion in all people (that is, it expresses itself physically in a similar way), different fear-inducing concepts and situations can be the basis from person to person.
That means: not everyone is afraid of the same thing. While one person falls into a state of anxiety in the elevator, another does not mind. But someone else cannot stand a spider in the room or cannot be alone in the dark. There are people who currently don't mind wearing mouth and nose protective masks at all. Yes, it's not comfortable, but it's not bad either. You go into acceptance - it is the way it is right now.
Others, on the other hand, get scared because it is harder to breathe - it may even trigger a panic attack in some. Still others are afraid that they can no longer fully recognize the facial expression of people and that they are therefore deprived of a standard of assessment for the dangerousness of a situation. You can see that there are very different things that scare one or the other.
How can this thought help you?
It is never the situation itself that triggers the fear. It is always - very important: always - your own interpretation of the situation.
And this is where we can start if you want to ensure that certain situations no longer trigger the anxiety states you are familiar with.
In psychology, we distinguish between two types of strategies for coping with anxiety: short-term and long-term strategies.
Short term strategies
Short-term strategies help you to get out of the worrying carousel of thoughts in an acute situation. Such a short-term strategy can be that you seek support to get out of a brooding cycle, for example. You can then also find consolation in our Facebook community #gemeinamstark or call our hotline +49 (0) 800 000 33 45 (until August 21, 2020 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
In an acute fearful situation, it is also a possibility to completely avoid the fear-inducing situation. Ordering food instead of going shopping. Do not enter the room with the spider. Another short-term way out of fear is distraction - go for a walk, listen to music, do some other activity that keeps you temporarily occupied.
However, it already resonates: It only works temporarily. At some point you have to go shopping, you want to re-enter the room, you can't hang on the phone all the time.
Without long-term effective strategies, the fear comes back, in many cases these short-term strategies even maintain the fear because they do not start at the cause, but suggest to your system that your fear is justified, that the situations are really very bad.
Long-term strategies for coping with anxiety
Long-term strategies address the causes and therefore help to live better with our fear in the long term or to reduce it.
1 Shift your focus inside out
When we are afraid, we often direct the whole focus inwards, on our thoughts, the disaster scenarios our head thinks up, and our physical panic-like reactions such as racing heart, sweating, tremors, etc.
If you concentrate on your fear like this, you will get caught in a vortex that will divert you away from what IS actually present at the moment. It is then important that you focus on the perception of the reality around you in order to “take for granted” something other than your own fear.
This takes a little practice, because it may not be that easy at the beginning. You can do a small task every day:
Stand by the window for 5 minutes, look outside and carefully describe your surroundings. Everything you see as detailed as possible. With this you train to direct the focus outwards. It's best to set an alarm clock and don't be strict with yourself if you digress frequently and quickly at the beginning - this is normal. Little by little you can lengthen the period of time or choose a different “area”, for example by taking a mindfulness walk in the forest or city park and paying attention to everything around you.
In this way you can train yourself to be in the here and now and it will be easier for you to stop your carousel of thoughts even in scary situations by perceiving your surroundings.
2Change your interpretation of the situation
Let us remember: it is never the situation, but the interpretation that triggers a feeling, in our case that is what scares you.
The good news is that it is entirely possible to change the way you interpret a situation by giving your subconscious the opportunity to choose other interpretations.
You can do this in two steps in the face of a frightening situation:
The first step is to write down everything that comes to mind as negative thoughts that cause fear. So let's take, for example, wearing the face mask. There is the worry of not getting enough air, the archaic discomfort, not recognizing the facial expressions of others and therefore misjudging a dangerous situation, there is the dissatisfaction that it is imposed from outside. Maybe also the general feeling of threat when there are masked people around you. You acknowledge all these possible interpretations by writing them down.
In the second step, however, you open up new possibilities and write down how you could experience the situation differently - if in doubt, how others seem to experience it. Ask yourself how you would rather experience the situation, which interpretation would be more useful to you. You don't have to mutate into a mask fan or suddenly declare spiders to be the cutest animals. It is sufficient if you write down thoughts of acceptance such as “It is as it is”, “It is only for a short time”, “I can leave the room at any time”, or positive thoughts such as in the face of the masks, “I protect so that other people ”or“ We show community feeling and consideration ”.
By giving your system a new option, the situation in the future may be perceived as more comfortable, or at least less uncomfortable.
3 Speak well to yourself
If you get into the situation that usually triggers your fear, find a loving (imaginary) companion. Give this companion the task of supporting you and persuading you well. You can also do this by talking to yourself lovingly and encouraging yourself to do a certain activity. “I can do it”, “You have already mastered difficult situations”, “You have nothing to lose” - and the fear subsides automatically without you having to rely on others.
4 Loosen up through breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation
When we are afraid, we are often tense and adopt a very tight, cramped posture. This is an interaction, so to speak, because this attentiveness signals your system again that you are on the alert and that danger is imminent.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR for short, is an effective tool to break this vicious circle. With PMR you can work against it in a very targeted way and loosen up. For example, if you do this 3 times a week for 10 minutes, you will achieve a long-term effect. There are great exercise videos on the Internet that you can use to learn to relax your body again when you are anxious.
Breathing exercises work in a very similar way, putting the body in a relaxed state and training it to intuitively access this in acute situations.
This also gives the brain the feedback that the fear can subside.
5Experience calm through meditation
Meditation goes in a similar direction. Meditation, however, includes the thoughts and trains to let thoughts simply be thoughts. Through meditation you can teach yourself that you don't necessarily have to react to a thought, that is, to your interpretation of a situation (for example with fear or flight). The thought does not require a reaction, it goes away and gives way to another thought.
This is also a matter of practice, over time it works better and better. Especially when you start meditating, don't expect miracles. Here you can be excited and patient, meditation can be learned.
First of all, it is very good practice to meditate for 5 minutes. You can find many guided meditation videos on the Internet, for example the five minute meditation for inner calm or a guided meditation for the morning as the perfect start to the day.
It has been said several times in this article: A very effective way of dealing with difficult emotions such as fear is to accept them.
Sounds strange at first, but you can imagine it like a ball floating on water. If you want to keep it under the surface of the water (i.e. suppress it), it is quite exhausting and cannot be successful in the long term. Then when you let go of him, he has a lot of energy and jumps up with great force.
But if we just let the fear be there, it can float on the surface and go again. You can find out how to do this here.
7 Face your fear in small steps
Last but not least, and with a wink: What really helps is if you practice confronting your fears over and over again.
Do it like in a computer game: Don't start with the final boss ... It's best to write down a kind of fear hierarchy: What is a situation that scares me the most? Which situation makes me a little less afraid? What kind of situation would be roughly in the middle range? And what am I just a little afraid of, but enough to swallow a little?
Now you have your “game levels” with which you can practice systematically. Make a plan for how you can feel your way. Nobody likes to face their fears with pleasure, so it is important that you make a plan that you follow consistently.
So you can always have new learning experiences. If you always avoid the fear-inducing situations, you can never learn that you can do it. With this plan you can start with the little one and gradually move on to show yourself that you can cope with the situation despite your fears. And don't forget to celebrate yourself properly with every success and give yourself a big high five!
You can also find these strategies in our video 7 Explained Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety.
7 strategies for dealing with fear
by Anna Lübberding, psychological psychotherapist
We would be happy if you join our private Facebook community HelloBetter #together and share your experiences with these strategies with us and others. If you are very worried about the fear of Corona, you can try our free psychological online training for coping with stress. We look forward to you!
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