From anxiety to trauma, fear is a feeling of many colors. Colors and musical notes have a certain resonance or intensity that may vary with the emotion the artist wants to evoke. Feelings are emotions and also have stronger or weaker intensities, depending on the way a person is expressing those feelings inwardly or outwardly. Fear may begin with a mild feeling of worry or concern about someone or something that can escalate to the vibrancy of panic and the inability to think about anything else, with eating and sleeping problems thrown in. At another extreme, a person can experience a traumatic event, and then he/she cannot help dreaming or continually seeing and hearing reviewed experiences in the mind’s eye, which can interfere in the person’s daily ability to function, either in part or in all aspects of life. Fear takes a toll on the body, the mind, and behavior. Studies show that even a person’s brain marks changes as a result from fearful experiences.
Anxiety that can lead to strong fear is triggered by something that begins to worry someone. One woman whose family members were all doing well, woke up one morning and began to panic. She told her husband that everyone seemed to be doing well, but she knew that that could change suddenly and she was waiting to hear that something had just gone wrong. Although the family laughed about it when they heard, it really wasn’t humorous at all; the person going through it always had an inward fear that did not let her relax and enjoy the family as they were.
Many things trigger feelings of fear in people. Some people, like the woman in the example above, worry about their family and loved ones – regardless of whether or not there is a reason to worry about them. Different people worry about their jobs, their transportation, their finances, an illness, their friends and other family, about going out, or about someone coming. They worry about an endless amount of things that other people do not even think about. Even with good reason, worrying is not particularly helpful. Without one, anxiety can grow into panic attacks and other disagreeable behaviors. When individuals can take charge of their feelings and responses, they are able to find ways to be helpful both to themselves and to the ones about whom they worry. Then they can find useful and productive actions to assist those they worry about when they really need it.
In today’s world, people often feel concerned when they watch news reports, although the news is not under viewers’ control. Newscasters often exaggerate or elongate news reports to get and maintain their audience. If the news is too alarming, the bothersome story can be turned off. Only when local communities are being given important instructions, like impending rain or snow storms, among other possibilities, should people keep checking in to maintain their safety. Everyday living is within a person’s control in many ways and individuals must remember that. In addition, since broadcasts are dramatized to capture viewers’ interest and increase their audience, they do not have to be watched so intently every minute. If people are living in relatively safe communities under a responsible government that provides security for them, worrying and becoming anxious does not help them to live comfortable and productive lives. Instead, as mentioned above, it activates negative behavior that can cause physical, mental, and social difficulties. If, in fact, their neighborhood is not as safe as they would like it to be, working with the authorities to help make it safer elicits positive behavior and satisfaction that whatever is in an individual’s control is being handled appropriately.
Depending on the intensity, there are a number of ways individuals can deal with their fear experiences. First, the person must be accepting of his/her right to certain feelings without becoming a prisoner shackled to them. It is important for an individual to learn to recognize his internal and external signs of fear escalation in order to take control before the situation goes out of control. Sometimes people get tension headaches, feelings of nausea, pain in their stomach, trouble eating or overeating, and mental distractions that prevent them from concentrating on whatever has to be done. These indications begin softly and gradually become more intense. One way to look at this experience is using the metaphor of intensifying color or musical notes: the stronger the feeling, the more vibrant the color or note. As soon as a person becomes aware of these signs or realizes that a situation is going to lead to one of them, he should begin work on averting their escalation.
Since fear shows itself in different ways for each person, there are tools individuals can practice to help them get past the debilitating conduct of their worries. Once they learn how to recognize signs in themselves that they are becoming agitated, they can do a number of activities that assist the reversal of the agitation, like deep breathing exercises, physical exercises, guided imagery exercises, listening to music, or enjoying an artistic task. While many ideas can be found in self-help books for those who like do-it-yourself projects, most people benefit from some sessions with a licensed therapist to assist them in finding tools that are most comfortable for them to deal with their particular fears.
Marlene Greenspan, MA, LPC is currently in private practice and the director of Counseling for Better Living. In the yeshiva system for many years, she has taught, created social skills programs, written weekly Counseling Corner articles, given workshops, and published professional articles for Nefesh, ACA, ASCA, and the OU, among others. She can be reached at email@example.com.