A client told me a story about how she was driving around on vacation and became quite lost trying to get back to her hotel. After driving around for some time, she found herself driving at night, unexpectedly, over a large bridge that did not lead toward her hotel, but rather took her farther away. As she described the experience to me, she painted the picture of how the bridge “loomed in the fog, its lights soaring higher and higher into the sky” as she drove. She talked about gripping the wheel and feeling a sense of panic as she drove this bridge. She finished the story by saying, “And I’m not even phobic about bridges.”
As she told the story, I felt the sense of fear and disorientation she must have felt with this experience. I started to think about the many times that someone has told me how afraid they are of something – flying, driving, public speaking and spiders are some of the more popular fears I hear about. Fears, anxiety attacks and phobias seem more common than we might realize. To understand the numbers within the population, I researched the National Alliance for Mental Illness and found the following statistic:
Specific phobias often begin in childhood and can last throughout one’s lifetime unless properly treated. Some estimates suggest that up to 15 to 20 percent of people will experience symptoms of specific phobia over the course of their life. Specific phobias affect people of all ages, races, genders, cultures and socioeconomic status.
15-20% of the population is not an insignificant number. It means on any given day there are millions of people walking around feeling afraid of something. Fear is not rational. You could be afraid of “something coming” that never arrives! The bridge experience is a good example: The bridge was safe; the client returned back to her hotel – albeit late – in fine shape, and the incident is in the past.
When we have phobias or fears we don’t think about the viability of them, or the rationality of them. We just know we are afraid. We know that something is out there, some danger or some problem that we might not be in a position to solve or withstand.
Having coping approaches when a sense of panic or fear overcomes is useful for many people. Although the woman on the bridge doesn’t have phobias, she experienced a sense of panic in that moment. If you have ever been afraid, you know how beneficial it is to call upon some tools and resources to calm frayed nerves and give you a sense of being grounded.
Here are five tips for quelling anxiety and restoring peace in the moment of feeling panicked or afraid:
It’s a natural reaction to be fearful of something that could harm you – if you are walking down the street and a car veers around the corner driving wildly, you want to be able to jump out of the way. Reserve your energy and your resources for those time when you need a fear-based response to work in your favor. Don’t waste your energy on fears and phobias that simply drain you and don’t offer you anything in return.