We all have fears. For some of us it may be spiders, heights, flying or enclosed spaces. For most of us, we are able to manage life with these fears without too much trouble. For others however, the fear of doing something can prevent them from living a normal life or function in a way that they feel they need to. It can be incredibly debilitating.
When I had severe postnatal depression, I had a huge fear of being alone with my children. It is not that I thought that I would do anything to hurt them or that they may hurt themselves, it was just terrifying. I would panic even when my husband went to the toilet and I insisted that he kept the door open. When he went to work I had to have someone to 'babysit' me so that I wasn't on my own. My friends, neighbours and family took it in turns to stay with me, especially during the children's bed time, which was especially terrifying.
Looking back I can see how others may view it as a strange fear. A psychiatric
nurse who was not a specialist in perinatal mental health even thought that this fear was due to me wanting to hurt them, which was DEFINITELY not the issue. The fact that she considered this made my anxiety even worse.
Somehow I got through that very bad time. I am not sure how. I still feel genuine pain when I remember it. The important thing is that I DID get through it. We can overcome our fears, but it is very challenging.
I avoided flying for 8 years after two bad flights. Every time I avoided holidays which would involve flying, my anxiety exacerbated. It took a painful divorce for me to get on a plane, and it was more in a moment of impulse than anything. But it worked and I am now happy to fly.
We must challenge our fears. When we are suffering from poor mental health and are additionally vulnerable, new fears can rear their ugly heads or old ones can be exacerbated. The important part is to keep trying to fight them. That isn't to say to hop on a plane right away, but instead, to take baby steps. If your fear is being with your children alone, just start by your husband closing the bathroom door! Or for him to go into the garden for a few minutes.
Our anxiety surrounding fear builds when we are presented with the idea of doing it. Each time we avoid the scenario, it just gets worse.
We are so much stronger than we realise as women. We can birth children, leaving male birth partners in awe. We can raise children, despite post-natal mental illness and are even resilient when our children tell us they hate us during a tantrum.
Just give it a go. It is very hard but once you make that first tiny step, you will feel very proud of yourself.
Here are some tips from the NHS to help tackle fear and anxiety.
Ten ways to fight your fears
Whatever it is that scares you, here are 10 ways to help you cope with your day-to-day fears and anxieties.
These tips are for people who are coping with everyday fears. If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety-related condition, see our page on generalised anxiety disorder.
You may also be interested in our selection of mental health apps and tools for issues like fear in the Digital Apps Library.
1. Take time out
It's impossible to think clearly when you're flooded with fear or anxiety. The first thing to do is take time out so you can physically calm down.
Distract yourself from the worry for 15 minutes by walking around the block, making a cup of tea or having a bath.
2. Breathe through panic
If you start to get a faster heartbeat or sweating palms, the best thing is not to fight it.
Stay where you are and simply feel the panic without trying to distract yourself. Place the palm of your hand on your stomach and breathe slowly and deeply.
The goal is to help the mind get used to coping with panic, which takes the fear of fear away.
Try this breathing technique for stress.
3. Face your fears
Avoiding fears only makes them scarier. Whatever your fear, if you face it, it should start to fade. If you panic one day getting into a lift, for example, it's best to get back into a lift the next day.
4. Imagine the worst
Try imagining the worst thing that can happen – perhaps it's panicking and having a heart attack. Then try to think yourself into having a heart attack. It's just not possible. The fear will run away the more you chase it.
5. Look at the evidence
It sometimes helps to challenge fearful thoughts. For example, if you're scared of getting trapped in a lift and suffocating, ask yourself if you have ever heard of this happening to someone. Ask yourself what you would say to a friend who had a similar fear.
6. Don't try to be perfect
Life is full of stresses, yet many of us feel that our lives must be perfect. Bad days and setbacks will always happen, and it's important to remember that life is messy.
7. Visualise a happy place
Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine a place of safety and calm. It could be a picture of you walking on a beautiful beach, or snuggled up in bed with the cat next to you, or a happy memory from childhood. Let the positive feelings soothe you until you feel more relaxed.
8. Talk about it
Sharing fears takes away a lot of their scariness. If you can't talk to a partner, friend or family member, call a helpline such as the Samaritans (116 123, open 24 hours a day).
If your fears aren't going away, you can ask your GP for help. GPs can refer people for counselling, psychotherapy or help through an online mental health service, such as FearFighter.
9. Go back to basics
Lots of people turn to alcohol or drugs to self-treat anxiety, but this will only make matters worse. Simple, everyday things like a good night's sleep, a wholesome meal and a walk are often the best cures for anxiety.
10. Reward yourself
Finally, give yourself a treat. When you've made that call you've been dreading, for example, reinforce your success by treating yourself to a massage, a country walk, a meal out, a book, a DVD, or whatever little gift makes you happy.