Fear is the strongest emotion we have as human beings and it is intricately involved with our survival mechanisms . It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between fear, stress, anxiety, phobic response and panic attacks. In fact, all of these situations are actually based on fear in one form or another. Fear is simply a more affective form of anxiety.
Anxiety is something we can all experience from time to time. Most people can relate to fee ling tense, uncertain and, perhaps, fearful at the thought of sitting an exam, going into hospital, attending an interview or starting a new job .
This type of short - term anxiety can be useful. Feeling nervous before an exam can make you feel more alert, and enhance your performance. However, if the feelings of anxiety overwhelm you, your ability to concentrate and do well may suffer.
When you feel under threat, anxiety and fear triggers the release of adrenalin and cortisol and your body responds with the “fight or flight” reflex. Your heart beat s faster to carry blood to where it's most needed. You breathe faster to provide the extra oxygen required for energy. You sweat to prevent overheating. Your mouth may feel dry as your digestive system slows down to allow more blood to be sent to your muscles. Your senses become heightened and your brain becomes more alert.
This response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers; for example, it can help you run away from wild animals, attackers, fires etc very quickly. The response is not so useful if you want to run away from exams, public speaking, a driving test, or having an injection. This is because, if there is no physical threat, and you have no need to physically run away or fight, the effects of the “fight and flight” response subside more slowly, and you may go on feeling agitated for a long time.
If your anxiety stays at a high level for a long time, you may feel that it is difficult to deal with everyday life. The anxiety may become severe; you may feel powerless, out of control, as if you are about to die or go mad. Sometimes, if the feelings of fear overwhelm you, you may experience a panic attack.
A panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. It is the rapid build - up of overwhelming sensations, such as a pounding heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, chest pains, breathing discomfort, feelings of losing control, shaky limbs and legs turning to jelly. If you experience this, you may fear that you are going mad, blacking out, or having a heart attack. You may be convinced you are going to die in the course of the attack – making this a terrifying experience.
There are several types of anxiety and panic disorders, because people respond to anxiety and panic attacks in different ways. Some of the more common disorders are outlined below.
Phobia is about irrational fear. If you have a phobia, your anxiety will be triggered by very specific situations or objects; such as spiders, heights, flying or crowded places, even when there is no danger to you. For example, you may know a spider isn’t poisonous or won’t bite you, but this still doesn’t reduce your anxiety. Likewise, you may know that it is safe to be out on a balcony in a high - rise block, yet, feel terrified to go out on it or even enjoy the view from behind the windows inside the building.
(GAD) You may have generalised anxiety disorder if you have felt anxious for a long time and often feel fearful, but are not anxious about anything in particular. The strength of symptoms can vary.
(OCD) Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour are typical for this disorder. You may, for example, have obsessive thoughts a bout being contaminated with germs or fear that you have forgotten to lock the door or turn off the oven. You may feel compelled to wash your hands, do things in a particular order or keep repeating what you are doing a certain number of times.
(PTSD) If you have experienced or witnessed a very stressful or threatening event, e.g. war, serious accident, violent death or rape, you may later develop post - traumatic stress disorder. You are likely to experience flashbacks and have dreams about the event, and these are likely to trigger strong anxiety and feelings you experienced during the actual event.
Panic attacks may sometimes occur for no reason, and you may not be able to understand why. You may fe el as if your mind has gone totally out of control. When you experience panic attacks that seem completely unpredictable and you can’t identify what has triggered them, you may experience panic disorder. Be cause the onset of panic seems unpredictable, you may live in fear of having another panic attack. This fear can become so intense it can trigger another panic attack.
There are many interventions that can help with anxiety, fears and panic disorders. Clinical Hypnotherapy – obviously! Also, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) . Mindfulness can also play a significant part.