“When you begin fearing fear, you’ve swung wide the door to developing a phobia. Thank God he helps you overcome a phobia or other fear.” –Lucy Ann Moll
“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” –German proverb
The mother of all phobias is agoraphobia, which is the fear of open spaces. At its core is a fear of panic attacks.
With bodily sensations (such as a racing heart, perspiration, trembling, tingling in the hands and feet, nausea, and more) and mental panic (such as fear of going crazy, losing control, or dying), panic attacks bring on intense fear and acute apprehension. Read about my own panic attacks that led to a phobia.
It may seem that a fear of panic attacks makes sense. Wouldn’t you run from debilitating fear if you could? But this fear is not rational—and folks who have panic attacks and phobias know this!—so it really makes no sense at all.
Pastor, author, and biblical counselor John MacArthur says in Anxious for Nothing, “Fully trusting our heavenly Father dispels anxiety. And the more we know about Him, the more we trust Him.”
Types of Phobias
But phobias are real. Just ask someone who has a phobia. The list is long.
Specific phobias zero in on one fear like the fear of flying. Other common specific phobias are fear of heights, elevators, dentists, and thunderstorms.
Social phobia involves fear of embarrassment or humiliation in situation where you may be noticed or scrutinized. Common social phobias are fear of crowds, fear of spilling food while eating in public, and, of course, fear of public speaking. You may think, everyone is afraid giving a speech. Yes, three out of four people have anxiety concerning public speaking, experts say, but it becomes a phobia for a small percentage.
Agoraphobia is the mother of all phobias, I say. It’s the fear of panic attacks. Folks with this phobia are afraid to go out in public, so they nix grocery shopping, eating out, and using public transportation, to name a few—unless they have a “safe person” with them. This safe person is typically a spouse or parent. Sometimes a person with agoraphobia will not leave their home, their bedroom, or even their bed.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15, NASB
Steps to Overcoming a Phobia
Christian speaker and author Patty Clairmont battled agoraphobia for 17 years, beginning in her teens. So strong was her fear that eventually she wouldn’t leave her bed. She tells her story at popular Women of Faith conferences. How can someone full of fear now speak to sold-out arenas?
She broke her fear habit. And if she—a women confined to her bed—could do it, and I could do it, all by God’s grace, then you can, too.
1. Be realistic. Your fear habit is ingrained in the way you think, feel, and act. It takes time to change this habit. Be persistent. If you hit a snag, no worries. Just do the next thing.
2. Do the basics. Get enough sleep (about 8 or 9 hours daily), eat nutritious foods, drink ample water, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and exercise regularly. A medical checkup is wise too.
3. Renew your mind, part 1. Get rid of all negative, trashy, ungodly inputs from music, television (including news programs), the internet, video games, and reading materials, including most popular magazines and novels, and replace them with God-honoring alternatives, especially the Bible.
3. Pray. Philippians 4 is the apostle Paul’s answer to freedom from anxiety. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” 4:6–7, ESV. When you react to your problem with thankful prayer, peace replaces anxiety, even fear of panic attacks. As prayer becomes your habit, you’ll experience peace time after time. When thankfulness becomes a habit, doubt dissipates. Remember this: God promises not to allow anything to happen to you that is too much for you to bear.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV
4. Renew your mind, part 2. How you feel and act is a product of your thinking. When you think godly thoughts, godly emotions and behavior follow. “As (a person) thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7, NASB). Replace the lies you believe with the truth of God. I’ve developed a Thought-Emotion-Behavior download to help you do this. I encourage you to make copies and learn to replace ungodly thoughts with godly thoughts every day. The goal is a renewed mind according to Romans 12:1–2 and Ephesians 4:23, among other Scripture.
5. Be brave. At Biblical Counseling Center, we often say “faith is believing the Word of God and acting upon it, no matter how I feel, knowing that God promises a good result.” When I finally faced my phobia of highway driving head on, I had to make a choice to believe God and his care for me even if I had a panic attack.
I made certain to be realistic, do the basics, replace negative, fear-producing inputs with God-honoring praise music and Bible reading, pray with thanksgiving, and replace lies with God’s truth. I also made a plan of progressively tackling more difficult highway driving over time.
Ready to Overcome Your Phobia?
As I mentioned, what you think becomes what you feel and do. To overcome a phobia or any type of fear and anxiety, begin with knowing God and thinking his thoughts. You’ll find his thoughts in the Bible.
Most folks want the help of supportive people as they walk toward freedom from fear. Do you want someone to walk with you?
COUNSELING: Struggling with anxiety, fear and/or worry? Find out the names of biblical counselors at your church. If there are none at your church or a church in your area, please contact us at Biblical Counseling Center. We counsel the hurting and help churches care for people. Some of our counselors meet over Skype.
May I Pray for You?
Lord, we praise you and love you. We thank you for your blessings. We know you do not want us to fear. In your Word, you say “fear not” hundreds of times. Yet we sometimes get twisted in anxiety. Help us. We know you are trustworthy. We choose to trust you in all things. Amen.