Facing Fear

Denise Scruggs is the Director, Beard Center on Aging at Lynchburg College



Roller coasters. Going to the dentist. Horror movies. Becoming old and discarded. Death. Failure. Loneliness. Public speaking. Cancer. Perfection. All of these have a common link and that is the tendency to create fear in many people.

While we all experience fear, it is personal. What one person fears, another person thrives on. Successful people feel the fear and don’t let it keep them from doing what they want to do or have to do. Some people hide their fears and appear fearless while others are more open about them. Many face their fears head on while others ignore them and let them guide their lives.

Some things we fear last a lifetime, while others occur at different periods in our lives. As a child we may fear our first day at school or getting up in the classroom to present a paper. In mid-life, our fear of failure in our careers or fear of not finding a partner may be more acute. As we move into later life, we may fear death more strongly as it appears more imminent. We may fear that our money will run out before we die. We may also fear becoming frail or ill.

Fearing the loss of our independence is a common fear among older adults. While it is one that needs to be faced head-on, we tend to become stubborn, uncommunicative, and unwilling to seek help or advice from family, friends and professionals. We hide the fact we are becoming more frail or forgetful. We keep our head in the sand and hope that our situation will go away. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t and we, in essence, create the situation we feared the most.

Fear manifests itself in many different ways.  It may appear as procrastination or inaction as we fail to make important decisions or act on situations. It may be an over-reaction to a situation that has occurred when we felt frustrated that we did not face a problem effectively.  It may even appear as expressions of anger, aggression and criticism toward others who are able to do the things we fear the most. We feel inadequate when we compare ourselves to them.

Fear is natural. Fear is powerful.  By causing us to feel anxious and nervous, or even sad, it is also uncomfortable. Fear influences the choices we make and how we live our lives. It can energize us or paralyze us while affecting our personal life, our relationships, and our future. It clouds our reasoning and can prevent us from living life to the fullest or being the best that we can be.

Many fears are self created. They are created in our mind when there is really nothing to fear. It is like the infamous “monster under our bed” we feared as a child, when in reality it was not there.

At the same time, fear can be positive. It can keep us from taking risks that are too dangerous. For example, when coming head-to-head with a big bear in the woods, fear reminds us to proceed cautiously. It prevents us from walking up to the bear and petting him on the head. It gives us the adrenaline we need, if we need to run away.

(To Be Continued  “Techniques for Facing One’s Fears”)


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