Afraid? A Method to Calm Your Fear

Dr. Lucy Ann MollFor Those Seeking Hope1 Comment

Where fear flourishes, there your heart will be also. [1]

From a mild sense of unease to full-blown panic, fear is an emotion most of us would rather live without. It communicates that someone or something we care about is being threatened or that we might lose it. Fear shows us what we value most. 

Consider these three folks who are afraid. In each case, try to figure out what they each value most.

  • Dolores’s elderly mother has dementia and is in the memory care unit of a health facility, which so far has kept its patients and workers safe from COVID-19. Nonetheless, she loses sleep worrying night after night, fearing for her mother’s well-being.
  • Breanna has packed her high school schedule with advanced placement and dual-credit classes, hoping to gain admission to a high-ranking university. She fears her friends might make fun of her if she attends a community college.
  • John just learned that his company is hiring new workers in his department and is wondering if he’ll be laid off. If he lost his job, how would he make rent and pay utilities? 

Fear is very real, and it can keep us from functioning in our daily lives. So how can we calm our fears?

First, identify your emotion as fear.

Sometimes, identifying an emotion is not as easy as it sounds. You may feel uneasy or nervous or freaked out; you may also feel overwhelmed or hurt. Is fear the most accurate descriptor? 

If you’re not sure, ask yourself if you feel like pulling away from people or clinging to them. This reaction is a hallmark of fear: it prods us to seek safety, security, and certainty. 

EXAMPLES: A teen who’s afraid of getting judged by friends at church may decide to skip the in-person service and watch the live stream instead; A guy who fears that his girlfriend is going to dump him may respond by showering her with gifts and sending her one text after another. 

Second, examine your fear like a scientist.

Once you’ve identified your emotion as fear, examine what is going on by asking yourself a host of questions (you may discover it helps to write down your answers):

Is there a place connected to the fear? Perhaps it is linked to your workplace or to a room in your home, or a place in your town. For the longest time, after I was attacked by a dog at age 8, I could not walk down Bellforte Avenue, near where it happened. Just going near that street caused my heart to pound like a drum. 

Is there a certain time that unnerves you? Some of us don’t like a certain holiday or the anniversary of a family member’s death date because it brings uneasy memories of painful events. 

Is there a type of activity or a particular person linked to the fear you feel? One of the people I counseled told me she becomes greatly alarmed when she hears sirens. She connects the sound of them to the untimely death of her baby.

Third, evaluate your fear.

Begin by considering your reaction. Ask yourself, is my reaction godly and constructive, or is it sinful and destructive? An example of constructive concern is studying for an algebra exam. You want a good grade so you memorize formulas and rework problems until you are confident you know the material.

In a similar way, David in the Old Testament had a constructive reaction when he faced Goliath (1 Sam. 17). He chose the best weapon for him to defeat the giant (a sling and five smooth stones), and he came in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, who had promised victory over the Philistines. His courageous reaction to Goliath sharply contrasted the reaction of the army of Israel, who cowered in fear. 

Biblical truth gives us reason to hope and teaches us to turn to God. “No matter what the danger or what we are valuing, God can be trusted with our treasures, and every fear ought to drive us straight toward the Lord in prayer, obedience, and fellowship!” [2]

Next, ask yourself how likely it is that what you fear will actually happen? Let’s say you fear that a routine medical exam might suggest the presence of cancer. Consider the likeliness of a bad result; while possible, it is very low, and worrying about it would be a waste of your energy (Matt. 6:34).

Finally, ask yourself, what is the worst that could happen? When my relatively new refrigerator needed repair for the third time three months in a row, I asked myself this exact question and realized that the worst was the hassle of another repair or getting another fridge, which was under warranty (thankfully). My evaluation gave me a sense of relief, not dread. 

Fourth, act in response to fear.

When you identify, examine, and evaluate your fear, you may come to a realization that it was not a big deal after all. 

Conversely, you may detect a troubling pattern. For instance, you may notice you have a tendency to worry, to look to people for their approval, to avoid certain situations (e.g., riding an elevator) for fear of a panic attack, and so on. 

In any case, it is wise to act in response to fear in godly ways. Here are a few of them:

Train yourself to turn to Scripture. A few excellent passages to read regularly are Phil. 4:4-9, Matt. 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-34, Psalm 23, and Psalm 27. 

Practice deep breathing and other healthy habits. Inhaling and exhaling slowly helps us to relax. Other healthy habits are giving yourself ample time to get from place to place, unplugging from the internet, and steering clear of computer screens late in the day, which may interrupt sleep. Additionally, you might incorporate or begin regular exercise (as always, check with your doctor), good nutrition, and a bedtime routine. You’ve already heard healthy tips; decide which one you’ll begin to make a habit.  

Face your fears wisely. Are you afraid to ask your boss for a raise? Are you avoiding a family member who unnerves you? Does the idea of flying in an airplane cause your heart to skip a beat? To face your fears wisely, be sure to examine and evaluate them, and have a thought-out plan. Discuss your plan with a trusted Christian friend and loved ones who can support you. You may also consider talking with a biblical counselor.

Conclusion

What you fear need not rule your life. A method to calm your fears helps you to understand that fear reveals your treasure and provides a plan to identify, examine, and evaluate it and to respond to it wisely in accordance with Scripture. 

When you handle this negative emotion in the right way, your trust in God increases, and others will begin to ask you the secret that the Apostle Paul had come to know.

“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).


[1] This quote comes from the excellent book Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2019, 153. It is a play on Matthew 6:21, which reads, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The book presents an identify-examine-evaluate-act approach to engaging every emotion. I highly recommend it to those who provide and receive counseling.

[2] Ibid., 160.

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