Have you ever dreamed up a crazy fear and then wondered where in the world it came from? Of course, we all have. Occasionally being overwhelmed by your fear doesn’t mean you are crazy (even though it can make you feel that way)—it just means you are human. We all deal with fear—even the brave mamas with poker faces, who never seem to flinch. The things we fear may differ, but inside we’re all the same. At MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers), we’ve been having lots of conversations about fear and what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be brave.
So what is this weird thing called “fear”? God made our brains incredibly complex, to respond even before we’re able to process the response. Fear starts with a stimulus that triggers chemicals that signal your heart, blood, and muscles to get ready for quick action. These are called “autonomic responses,” and we don’t consciously control them. They are there to help you survive a dangerous situation by preparing you to either run for safety or fight for your life. We see this play out in our lives every day. If you are sitting in the stands at a game and see a baseball coming at your head, you either reach up quickly to catch the ball, or if you are nonathletic like me, you gasp, duck, and expect your husband to catch it for you. If you step out into the street and a car suddenly appears, you quickly jump back. If you are walking alone down a dark lonely street at night, the prickles on the back of your neck signal you to get to a more populated place. Fear can indeed keep us safe.
But fear can also get out of control and make us lose perspective and abandon our sense of reason. It can manifest itself in obsessive worry and anxiety and lack of sleep. It can keep us from being able to relax and enjoy daily routines and moments of joy. It can literally make us sick. From talking to hundreds of moms about their fears, here are a couple of things we’ve learned:
If you deal with fear, you are not crazy. Fear can make you feel like you are taking a walk on the crazy-mama ledge, but relax; a certain amount of fear is normal. We have lots of sources for our fear: news reports, magazine articles and stories, and stats on the Internet aren’t always helpful, especially when we read a tragic story that happened to another family just like us. Many moms shared that after listening to a news report of a missing child, they had to take themselves firmly in hand and do some self-talk back into the camp of reason. They reminded themselves they needed to focus on what they could do to mitigate the danger, what they could control, and let the rest go.
If you deal with fear, you are not alone. When we asked moms about their fears, they shared freely—which told us clearly we all deal with fear. None of us are exempt, which is a good thing because it means we can admit our fears to each other and, more importantly, to God. He knows. He understands.
If you deal with fear, there’s hope. I admit to being a world-class worrier. I have caught myself telling my kids, “Be careful!” as they were heading out the door to play, when really the more fitting comment would have been, “Have fun!” I found myself worrying almost more as a habit versus addressing specific situations or things to worry about. Many of our moms resonated with this and shared they noticed they worried and feared things just as their moms had done. Here’s the good news: you can break these habits through some simple practices of journaling and noticing times or situations when you tend to worry, developing some great Scripture meditation habits, and stopping the worry-commentary that goes on in your head before you get carried away. I am living proof.
In the next article, we’ll talk about when worry and fear go bad.