* At the bottom of this page there is an acknowledgement, and a short commentary. Please don’t miss these, especially if you, or someone you love, suffers from anxiety, dread, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any other way of trying to avoid fear.
My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me.
Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.
(Psalm 55:4-5; NLT).
Stand up to fear and panic,
And here’s the reason why:
Avoidance makes them stronger –
Confrontation makes them die.
No one finds this easy:
It’s heroic, hard, and slow,
But confrontation shrinks our fears –
Avoidance makes them grow.
Let panic come, and welcome it:
Yes, practice every day.
Pause to let it do its worst –
Tremble, weep, or pray,
But don’t let terror stop you
From doing what you dread,
For confrontation shortens fear –
Avoidance makes it spread.
And if you have a seed of faith,
Hold fast to Christ, our Guide,
Who faced the cross despite his dread –
He did not run, or hide.
With practice, you’ll get braver,
Your doggedness is key,
So face your fears courageously –
For this will set you free.
Be brave and courageous (Psalm 27:14; NLT).
Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible” (Matthew 17:20; NLT).
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; NLT).
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8; NLT).
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do (Hebrews 4:15; NLT).
They came to a place called Gethsemane, and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here whilst I shall pray. And he taketh Peter, and James, and John, with him; and he began to be filled with horrible dread, and to be sunk under dejection of spirit: and he saith to them, My soul is deeply afflicted even to death: abide here, and watch. And he went a little farther forward, and fell on the earth, and prayed, that if it were possible the hour might pass from him (Mark 14:32-5; HNT).
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42; NIV).
He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44; NLT).
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3; NIV).
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NLT).
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10; NLT).
* Acknowledgement and commentary
I am deeply grateful for, and indebted to, the work of Claire Weekes, whose books on depression, anxiety, fear, dread, phobias, panic and mental breakdown laid the foundation for how I’ve handled my own emotional health for the last 45 years.
As an example, when I was completely housebound and broken by agoraphobia, it was her writing that showed me how to start facing my fears, by setting tiny, realistic goals and repeatedly confronting them, day after day.
At that time, in England (1978), there was no treatment for agoraphobia – indeed, it was considered to be untreatable. However, through Claire’s books, I was able to put together a few short, simple principles for how to tackle my fears. I wrote them down, and always kept them with me on a card in case I couldn’t remember them when I was panicking. I learned them by heart, used them during my practice sessions, and clung to them throughout every panic attack.
Over the years, I have had many set-backs, and still need anti-depressants every day to stay as coping as possible. Even now, though I’m much better, I automatically remember to use these principles as soon as panic starts to rise within me, and whenever I’m tempted to avoid something that makes me anxious. This is because I fully understand that avoidance underpins, maintains, and drives the development of phobias. There is a very good reason for this, as I will now explain.
In the short term, avoiding whatever we fear brings great relief. However, this relief acts as a powerful reward, strengthening the probability that we will avoid the same situation, and others like it, in future. This is the mechanism by which phobias grow and spread, until they come to dominate our lives, even affecting those with whom we live.
Unfortunately, when others kindly make allowance for our fears, they unwittingly encourage our avoidance, making the situation even more difficult to tackle. Forcing, teasing, bullying and punishing are of no help, either: they simply distress us even more, further damaging our already fragile coping abilities, confidence and self-esteem.
However, this wretched situation can be turned around, once we accept that the way forward lies in our own hands. When we begin to tackle our fears head-on, we can ask others to encourage and support us by rewarding confrontation, rather than avoidance. Praise, pleasure, smiles and hugs are very effective rewards for the heroic work of standing up to our fears and slowly overcoming them.
My heart goes out to everyone who is in the grip of phobic avoidance, and to those who are facing their fears with all the courage they can muster. Believe me: I know what you are going through. May God bless, strengthen and help every one of us.
✝️ With much love from Ruth xxxxxx