Befriending Our Fears

Befriending Our Fears

How to Handle Anxiety in the Age of Orange Alert

By Miriam Greenspan

May/June 2003

While intense anxiety is often diagnosed as a disorder, fear is a normal human response when life is threatened, compelling us to pay attention in the interests of survival. Anxiety, worry, insomnia, nightmares, hypervigilance, and difficulties with concentration have become widespread in the current climate of color-coded terrorist alerts and bio/chemical/nuclear weaponry. Anger, irritability, problems with attention, and addiction in children and adolescents, also on the rise, are often signs of benumbed fear. Pervasive dark emotions like fear, grief, and despair are simply part of the "new normal."

The client-therapist divide breaks down here. We're all in this together, for better or worse. However, though we may be as anxious and fearful as our clients, this doesn't mean we need to be unskillful when it comes to helping them face their fears and live fully and wisely.

The dark emotions can become sources of strength and wisdom, if we know how to listen to them. The first step is normalizing fear. Most people who are afraid think their fear is a sign of weakness. A great deal of what therapists can do here comes under the heading of psychoeducation. We need to depathologize fear and affirm its value as a sign of our human interconnectedness and a messenger alerting us to pay attention--rather than as something that diminishes us. Doing this much immediately lowers our clients' fear of fear. We can then encourage them to go beyond the habitual ways of…

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