In Job 3:25, Job says “the thing that I greatly feared has come upon me.” Anyone who knows the story of this great man in the book of Job will attest that Job’s greatest fears had indeed become reality. He literally lost everything in a matter of hours. This reminds me of a statement that I heard a long time ago likening fear to a magnet, attracting to us the things we do not want. In these days of uncertainty, it is important then to notice what our fears are and try to control them in our attempt to promote mental wellbeing.
As a therapist, I work closely with clients who battle anxiety and depression and I have found that these are often linked to their fears. Anxiety tends to increase with fear and dread of the future while depression seems directly linked to past hurts and past fears.
One of the many fall-outs of the global pandemic we are currently facing is heightened fear and dread. The uncertainty of what could happen next can easily destabilize us as it makes it hard to make plans and to move forward. If we do not take hold of our fears, they can quickly become unmanageable and affect our daily functioning. Below are suggestions that might help us deal with fear in a way that promotes rather than hinders mental wellness:
- Acknowledge our fears. Often, the dark cloud of fear hanging over us grows bigger and bigger because we are unable to name them. Sometimes it is hard to actually pin-point what our fears are, but if we take time to specify and name our fears, they lose a bit of their power over us. So what are you afraid of? This may require sitting with the fear for a few minutes until you are actually able to name the specific fear or fears and then you are ready for the next step.
- Write them down. Psychologists, neurologists and educators attest to the power of writing things down on paper, on our devices etc. By writing our fears down, we are exercising some form of control over the fears and freeing brain space that they tend to occupy. We are essentially telling the fears “I know what you are and I choose to no longer house you in my brain.” That in itself is a big step towards taking control of your mental health. When the fears come back, repeat step one and two and you will be amazed that slowly the gripping fears lose some of their grip over you.
- Normalize the fear. It is important to believe that it is only normal to be as scared as you are right now. Life has changed dramatically in the past 5 months and no one knows when it will return to what we have always known, if ever. That is reason to be afraid. You are not alone in your fear, everyone else is feeling the same fears, uncertainty and anxieties to a certain extent. The danger does not lie in being afraid, but rather in what we do with the fear.
- Change your focus. One exercise I assign my clients is a visualization exercise in which I have them draw two columns in their notebook. The first column is titled: “What I am afraid of” and they are to list all the things that they are fearful of. The second column is titled “What I would like to see happen”. The goal is to get them to see the change that happens when they focus more on the second column than on the first column.
Remember that the feeling of fear is a feeling that can be used to protect us and help us live cautiously in an uncertain world. Fear only becomes a problem when it controls and hinders our ability to function as the overcomers that we were created to be. Psalm 56:3 is a verse that I share often with my family to remind us what to do when we are afraid. In it the Psalmist says “whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you”. We can acknowledge our fears and make a choice to trust in God in the midst of our fears.
Dr. Uduak Afangideh, originally from Nigeria, is a licensed Mental Health Health Counselor in Montgomery. She teaches biology, genetics, and nutrition at Faulkner University. She is an author and speaker on Mental Wholeness for churches and organizations.