Fear As A Disease

Every person has fears. And everyone is afraid of different things. While little kids are more often afraid of burglars or monsters and nightmares, adults fear for their money or the health of their children.

Fear is a feeling that is deeply rooted in us. We have known it since our earliest childhood. Some fears affect almost everyone equally. These include.

  • Fear Of The Dark
  • Fear Of Growing Older
  • Fear Of Illness
  • Fear Of Death
  • Fear Of Loneliness
  • Fear Of Thunderstorms
  • Fear Of “Nasty” Animals
  • Fear Of Intimidating People
  • Fear Of Being Abandoned

No human being is free of fear, even if some would like to claim the opposite. Normally, however, we know how to deal with fears. Healthy people are not permanently tormented by their fears. They can distract themselves well or solve those problems that are causal for the fear.

If one cannot deal well with one’s own fears, then it may be that a so-called anxiety disorder is present. By the way, women are affected by this much more often than men.

Anxiety disorders are a serious mental illness. As such, they are responsible for many hospitalizations and outpatient treatments. In very bad cases, those affected experience a real downward spiral with regard to their health. They develop a fear of being afraid and are finally overwhelmed with the simplest things in life. Because around every corner they suspect a dangerous threat.

Because fear is a constant companion in life, it also plays a sometimes stressful role for kids. That’s why we’d like to take the fear out of your life today by taking a closer look at this phenomenon.

Why Are We Afraid?

We humans have three major basic instincts. Those would be flight, attack, and reproduction. These reactions are deeply rooted in the most ancient regions of the human brain and cannot be controlled at will. When we feel threatened, we respond with either attack or flight. Depending on the situation and our self-assessment as well as our character, we then try to actively put our opponents out of action or to flee from them in order to get to safety.

For this instinct to work at all, we must always be alert. This is the only way we can recognize approaching dangers in time. There are a number of stimuli that can trigger the feeling of fear in us. Basically, we feel fear towards things and living beings that we do not know or understand. This is one of the reasons why some people have something against foreigners. It is not uncommon for them to express a fear of the unknown.

Some people are naturally more fearful and quickly overreact when they suspect themselves to be in danger. They have a strong drive to protect themselves.

So you see: basically, fear is essential for our survival. Because without fear, we would not take threats seriously and would run blindly to our doom. We would be more courageous, but we would probably have a much shorter life expectancy. When adults talk about life expectancy, they mean the age a person is likely to reach before they pass away.

Now you know why we humans feel fear and to what degree these sensations are normal or healthy. Unlike natural, life-saving anxiety, excessive anxiety has a negative impact on the person’s life.

When Does Anxiety Become An Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety reaches unhealthy levels when the person affected by it or his or her social environment is significantly limited by its effects. In short, inappropriate, exaggerated and constant fears affect us negatively and are called anxiety disorders. Because anxiety disorder drastically complicates life, it must be distinguished from “normal” anxiety. If the anxiety disorder is not treated, it can lead to the development of other mental disorders that make the clinical picture progressively worse.

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People with anxiety disorders can no longer perform tasks of everyday life because they are paralyzed by anxiety. Things like going shopping, meeting friends, writing exams or cleaning up can trigger such intense anxiety that sufferers avoid such situations.

You can probably already guess that something like this can’t go well for long. Because in the long run, it does no good to avoid problems. It is no different with anxiety disorder.

So anxiety disorders are more serious than mere fear. Moreover, people with anxiety disorder cannot help themselves out of their anxiety. Unlike healthy people, they cannot calm themselves down or distract themselves.

What concerns the exact causes of anxiety disorders, scientists are currently not quite sure. In any case, it is known that some people are more susceptible to it than others. This is also due to the fact that stressful circumstances such as changes in the family, deaths or the loss of a job have a strong influence on the development of the anxiety disorder.

It is the case that many different triggers must coincide before such a disorder can actually develop. It is extremely rare for only one cause to be responsible for its development.

The Most Common Anxiety Disorders

The anxiety disorder itself is also called a phobia. This comes from the synonymous Greek word phobos (fear). In terms of its manifestation, such a disorder can vary in intensity. Depending on what triggered the excessive fear, different types of anxiety disorders can occur.

Agoraphobia

Like the word phobos, the term agora comes from the Greek and means “place”. Literally speaking, it means the fear of places (and not, as is often wrongly assumed, of lack of space).

Agoraphobia, however, goes much deeper. People affected by it fear situations from which there seems to be no way out for them. Whenever they no longer have full control over the situation, they panic. This is why agoraphobics avoid things like elevators, waiting for lines, or highways. This anxiety gets worse over time because the frequency of the anxiety feelings that occur steadily increases.

It is not very easy to describe the anxiety feelings and thoughts of the agoraphobic. This is because each of them feels the anxiety in a different way. For example, one agoraphobic may have no problem riding in an elevator, while another would not even set foot in the elevator. In severe cases, however, what they all have in common is that, at worst, they tend not to leave the house. This limits daily life to such an extent that the agoraphobic begins to suffer more and more from their fear.

Agoraphobia does not only take place in the head. Although this type of phobia also makes itself felt through circling thoughts, it is accompanied by physical symptoms. The following accompanying symptoms are typical of agoraphobia:

  • Sweating
  • Dizziness And Feeling Of Fainting
  • Headache
  • Stomach Problems
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Breathlessness And Shortness Of Breath

Compared to other anxiety disorders, agoraphobia is probably the most severe. Agoraphobics regularly suffer panic attacks and retreat to the safety of their own homes. They do this not only because they are afraid of the world, but also because they do not want to lose control over themselves. They suffer from the constant fear of going crazy at some point or breaking down physically or psychologically to such an extent that they can no longer help themselves.

The development of agoraphobia usually follows a certain pattern. If one is in a psychologically stressful situation for a long period of time, a panic attack may occur at some point. This refers to the occurrence of the symptoms mentioned above. This panic attack occurs in a specific place (which usually has nothing to do with the previous stress itself). That is why agoraphobics later tend to avoid that place. Then the fear spreads to things that have to do with that place (for example, public transport that takes you to that place). To be on the safe side, one avoids this or that meeting and one or another place, because in time the fear is directed against everything and everyone.

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The agoraphobic then lacks security, which he tries convulsively to restore. Therefore, he does not want to take any risks and does not want to rely on anything or anyone at all. Over time, confidence in oneself is also weakened until one ultimately feels completely unable to act.

Fear Of Specific Situations Or Objects

One may be afraid of certain things, creatures or places if one has had extremely bad experiences with them before. On the other hand, it is possible that the feared object actually has nothing to do with the previous trauma, but for some reason is associated with it. Also, the appearance or behavior of a living being or object can frighten us to such an extent that we develop an anxiety disorder.

For example, many people are afraid of spiders. Although there are many, many more dangerous things and creatures in our lives, spiders are widely feared. This is because spiders seem scary to some people. Here’s why:

  • We often do not notice the presence of a spider until it is already on our own body.
  • This, in turn, is due to the fact that spiders move silently and quickly. In addition, they can move vertically, i.e. from top to bottom and vice versa – something we are not used to ourselves either.
  • Thus, the spider’s body is very dissimilar to us. As mentioned before, we are basically afraid of things we don’t know. That’s why even strange phenomena like giraffes can trigger a phobia. But this is less often the case than with spiders.
  • Spiders come into the apartment or house and nest there without asking us. We humans generally do not like it when wild animals invade our living spaces. We feel disgust (not without reason) and want to shoo them away quickly.
  • The fast movements of the spider make it seem even more dangerous to us.
  • In the Christian faith, the spider also has a bad reputation. This is because it is an animal that is in league with evil.

Especially with regard to fears such as arachnophobia, it is also true that we learn a lot from our parents, siblings and friends. If they react to spiders in disgust, we assume that spiders are something to be afraid of. By the way, the exaggerated fear of spiders is also called arachnophobia.

Social Phobia

People with social phobia are afraid of being looked down upon by other people. They don’t want to be the center of attention in smaller groups because they tend to evaluate themselves negatively.

However, social phobia should not be confused with shyness. After all, as long as the affected person is not too restricted by their reticence, some shyness is normal.

The affected person would actually like to maintain social contacts on a regular basis, but finds himself repeatedly unable to do so in view of the feelings of anxiety that arise in the process. Their immense fear of making a fool of themselves or getting into embarrassing situations keeps them from participating in group activities that interest them. Sometimes these people agree to a meeting but then cancel at the last minute because they can’t bear the very idea of it.

Currently, the relationship with one’s parents and chronic stress are thought to be triggers for social phobias. Growing up in an overly protective environment as well as rejection by parents can both promote the development of this disorder.

Also, when people perceive themselves as less valuable to others because their parents are alcoholics, earn little, or cannot get out of unemployment, they may develop social phobia.

Similar to agoraphobics, social phobics also suffer from accompanying physical symptoms such as nausea, sweating or blushing.

As a result of the phobia, sufferers withdraw and become increasingly lonely. Because they no longer maintain their social contacts, they also “unlearn” how to interact with other people in a relaxed manner. Then it is very stressful for them when they are in company. Thus, a downward spiral occurs until one becomes completely isolated and reaches the point where the suffering has become almost unbearable.

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Many social phobics feel that there is no help for them. They have feelings of guilt, feel misunderstood or think they are “freaks”. The fact that therapy can also bring positive changes for social phobics is inconceivable to them.

Although the symptoms are quite similar, social phobia should not be confused with depression or panic disorder.

If a social phobic decides to seek help after all, they are usually prescribed psychotherapy. Together with the therapist, they expose themselves to the very situations they fear so much. This happens in a protected setting, which is supposed to show them that these situations are by no means as unpleasant as they imagine them to be.

As a support to psychotherapy, social phobics are given antidepressants. These are drugs that have a mood-lifting effect and thus help to improve the symptoms of anxiety. Tranquilizers are available to alleviate panic states, but they should be used sparingly. This is because they can, under certain circumstances, lead quite quickly to a dependence on medication.

As with agoraphobics, there are many social phobics who suffer from other mental illnesses. Alcoholism, depression or personality disorders are not uncommon here.

If the patient has a good connection to his therapist, then he can find his way back to a healthy, normal lifestyle after some time. If one does nothing against the social phobia, there is the danger of a fatal outcome of the disease. This is because it is not uncommon for the suffering to become too great to bear any longer. Out of the feeling of powerlessness, sufferers sometimes decide to commit suicide in the untreated, later course of the disease.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Unlike fears such as arachnophobia, generalized anxiety disorder does not revolve around a specific object or place.

People with generalized anxiety disorder have prolonged anxiety and are constantly tense.

This disorder develops as a result of traumatizing experiences such as bullying, alcoholism in the family, financial problems or other circumstances that threaten the person’s existence. Sometimes genetic factors can also be partly responsible for the anxiety disorder.

Affected individuals suffer from physical symptoms, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and irritability. In addition, they are extremely jumpy and worry about even small things. They hardly dare to do anything without thinking about it for hours or days in advance. Therefore, they forgo certain enrichments in their lives that would actually take them further. Thus, they may consider themselves unworthy of education or quit a job because they are afraid of doing something wrong.

People with a generalized anxiety disorder also need outside help to eventually enjoy their lives more. Therapy and antidepressants are as much a part of the program as thinking about oneself and getting rid of brooding, worrying habits.

Help For Persistent Anxiety

As you can see, anxiety can vary greatly in severity. Some people aren’t too bothered by their arachnophobia, while someone else suffers recurring panic attacks because they are regularly visited by spiders. Depending on what type of anxiety disorder one suffers, one is limited by it to varying degrees. One’s lifestyle also determines how strong the influence of the disease is.

Someone who rarely takes a vacation anyway probably doesn’t feel as disturbed by his fear of flying as a business traveler who doesn’t dare get on a plane after an airplane accident near him.

Because anxiety disorders can vary so much from person to person, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating the disorder.

In most cases, it makes sense to begin long-term behavioral therapy. If necessary, tranquilizers can be resorted to in acute situations. In the case of anxiety disorders that are already very pronounced, the use of antidepressants is usually unavoidable.

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In any case, it is important to take the step to see a doctor. Anxiety disorders are something serious and should therefore definitely be treated. Those who have decided to seek help have already accomplished a lot.

First Aid Tips

Remember that you are not alone in your anxiety. In fact, it is true that in about one in nine people suffers from an anxiety disorder. So this illness is not an isolated incident.

Become aware of your avoidance behaviors. Are you constantly trying to avoid unpleasant situations? If this limits you in your daily life and makes you increasingly sad, you should definitely change your behavior. Try to face your fear in order to conquer it by exposing yourself to it step by step again and again. You can never control your anxiety if you avoid the trigger for it. Sooner or later, you’ll find that it makes things worse.

Tranquilizers can help in part to get through challenges relatively free of anxiety. However, depending on the type of drug, addiction can develop quite quickly. That’s why it’s always better if you can manage without tranquilizers. If you have the feeling that you can’t do without them, then turn to gentle, herbal remedies for the time being and be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about it.

Just like constantly taking tranquilizers, reaching for drugs of any kind is not a problem solver. Alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs may make you feel relaxed at first. However, this does not change your anxiety disorder. It remains and in the worst case is not treated, because you keep yourself halfway afloat with the drugs. In the process, your avoidance behavior hardens more and more and the anxiety disorder begins to dominate your life more and more.

Be clear that there is help available for individuals with anxiety disorders. Even if you think no one can help you, you should seek counseling. Sometimes unexpected possibilities and avenues emerge during the initial consultation with a counseling team or psychotherapist. A comprehensive therapy in combination with taking special medication can help you out of your emotional chaos and give you more control over your own life again. Turn to an expert (doctor, youth counselor, therapist) rather than treating yourself.

Observe yourself! Keep an eye out for things that make you feel strangely uncomfortable. From the beginning, try to consciously encounter those things instead of avoiding them. It can help to involve friends or family members. They can give you a nudge in the right direction from time to time when you get caught up in your anxiety again. Again, this type of help is not a substitute for psychotherapy. So if your symptoms persist, be sure to contact a doctor or a psychotherapist of your choice directly.

Once you’ve observed yourself and become more aware of your quirks, you’ll have accomplished a lot. Then you’ll know what it feels like when anxiety sets in for you and how to intuitively try to avoid the trigger. Distribute small reminders around you that will keep pulling you out of your fear-driven behavior. Write helpful messages on post-its and stick them in places you frequently look. Example: you are afraid to talk to new people and sometimes you don’t dare to go out of the house? Write down some reminders that say “Smile and stay loose” or “No tails allowed” etc..

Worksheet For The Text

1) Explain the difficult words from the text.

What does…

  • Life Expectancy
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Agoraphobia
  • Arachnophobia
  • Social Phobia
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Antidepressants

2) Everyone has fears. What are you most afraid of? Write down as much as you want about it or draw a picture. You do not need to show your story, picture, or notes to anyone.

3) Now ask yourself what calms you down best when fear comes over you again. Write something down or draw a picture.

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