Fear: How Does It Affect You and What Options Do You Have In Dealing With It?

Fear can be an overwhelming feeling of dread or a consistent uneasiness that keeps you on edge. Fear and/or phobias exist under several names including such familiar ones as claustrophobia which is the fear of enclosed spaces and acrophobia which is the fear of heights. However, just because you can put a name to a fear doesn’t make it any easier for the person experiencing it to deal with.

Fear has become not just an individual problem these days but is also being used by economists and the government to control the populace. You see it every day when you listen to the radio and are bombarded with the rising price of gas and find yourself worried about how you are going to continue to keep your car running so that you can get to work. You feel it creep up on you in the dark after listening to the news of home invasions and burglaries or after hearing reports of a rise in the terror alert warning system. The problem with these fears is that you have no power to avert the outcome of these situations and it is this very powerlessness that gives flight to fear.

In my life I see my daughter affected by panic/anxiety attacks when she finds herself in a crowded environment. I see my granddaughter, who is only nine, dealing with selective mutism due to her inability to cope with her intense shyness and fear of being judged by what she has to say. I myself really never felt particularly fearful until I was put in a hospital situation where others made the rules and decided to perform procedures and administer drugs without my having the ability or time to decide if I wanted those things to happen to me. As a result, I now find myself leery if not downright frightened of future hospital visits but at least for the most part I do realize that what was done to and for me had scientific reasoning behind it.

To deal with fear Marks, a behaviorist, in 1987 wrote that simple or specific phobias can be effectively treated with behavior therapy. (Marks, I. M. (1987). Fears, phobias, and rituals: Panic, anxiety, and their disorders. New York: Oxford University Press.) He suggests that phobic fear is a reflex and that conditioning techniques can help reduce the incidence of fearful episodes. He believed that a healthy fear such as of being bitten by a vicious dog is carried over to include a fear of all dogs. His remedy then became to expose the person afraid of all dogs to non-dangerous ones thus showing them that there is no danger and eliminating their phobic response. Of course, over the period of treatment it is mandatory that the person is not exposed to a vicious animal.

In some instances, however, patients are so fearful that a study by Watson in 1924 called for an alternative to classical conditioning called counter-conditioning. (Watson, J. B. (1924). Behaviorism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press). In his treatment Watson called for a relaxation response. This method requires the patient to substitute relaxation for the fear response when in the presence of the phobic stimulus. He believed that since relaxation is incompatible with anxiety that the person would eventually learn not to be afraid.

According to Joseph Wolpe (1958) counter-conditioning can also be used in a systematic way to very gradually introduce the feared stimulus in a step-by-step fashion known as systematic desensitization. This method not only trains the patient to physically relax but also to establish an anxiety control level to analyze the danger of the stimulus. This method is often what one sees with biofeedback where the patient is ensured of being truly well-relaxed before being subjected to the fear stimulus.

So while many people are fearful one proven known is from a German proverb which says: “Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it.”

[tags]fear, coping with fear, economy, government, terror alert, systematic desensitization, Joseph Wolpe, biofeedback, J.B. Watson, classical conditioning, I.M. Marks, selective mutism, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, acrophobia, claustrophobia, phobias[/tags]