How to fight your irrational fears and stay strong

Adobe Stock Photo.

T here are plenty of reasons to feel anxious today. Whether it’s fears regarding how the coronavirus will affect our fami lies , the ups and downs of the economy or something else, it’s normal to stress .

In such times, the fight-or-flight response kicks in, which is meant to protect us from danger and allow us to react more quickly to emergencies. Anxiety can also motivate us to achieve our goals and help us to remain focused.

But when stress becomes irrational and excessive, it can be crippling. Learning how to manage irrational anxie ty is the first step in being able to determine the difference between irrational fear and justified anxiety. Managing anxiety is essential for living a more balanced and harmonious life.

Here are four tips to get started:

1. Observe and describe your emotions in a nonjudgmental way. This entails observing your surroundings or circumstance s and then describing with words your observations. The purpose is to help calm strong emotions so you can think more rationally and act more skillfully.

2. Create a distress tolerance plan. N ot all emergencies are the same. Some crises are more significant like g oing through a divorce, getting laid off from a job, or having a health issue. Create a distress tolerance plan for calming strong emotions when crises crop up . This can include making time for warm baths, watching funny movies, playing a game or exercising.

3. Make meditation a daily self-care practice. Studies show that meditation help s manage anxiety. M indfulness meditation helps train the brain to stay in the moment, which decreases stress levels.

4. Accept that life is stressful. It’s part of the human condition. Simply knowing you’re not alone and that anxiety is a normal human emotion can help stop anxiety from becoming irrational.

How to fight your irrational fears and stay strong

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Paula Durlofsky.

Paula Durlofsky, PhD is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Bryn Mawr. As a practicing therapist for over 18 years, Dr. Durlofsky helps individuals, couples and families reach their full potential for leading lives with passion and purpose. She is also affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital, Lankenau Medical Center, the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and the Women’s Resource Center. Her expert opinions, shared through “Thinking Forward” are based on over two decades of clinical experience and training. Her expertise has been featured in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, APA’s Monitor on Psychology, Exceptional Parenting Magazine, Main Line Health, Psych Central, as well as at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and on ABC 10-KXTV.

Irrational thoughts are something that plague us all from time to time and that can cause a lot of problems. These are the kinds of thoughts that make us worried that something bad has happened to our loved ones when we have no evidence to suggest it (if something bad had happened, chances are you would have heard from someone), that make us worry that we’ve left the stove on, that make us insecure that everyone’s looking at us, and that makes us afraid to do things that we know we should.

These irrational thoughts then are thoughts that come from emotion – generally negative emotion – rather than logic. And in a lot of cases this means that they aren’t congruent with the real world. They’re faulty thoughts and as such they stop us from going about our daily business.

Self Perpetuating Thoughts

The problem is with irrational thinking, that it is often self perpetuating and confirming. If you have an irrational thought, and this then affects your behavior, then that will tend to act to enforce your belief. For instance you worry that everyone will look at you, and so you act oddly out of nerves, and then everyone does look at you. Otherwise you feel that it’s too dangerous to go outside, so you stay inside, and by staying inside you are confirming that irrational thought rather than challenging it. The next time you have that thought it will be stronger backed up by your experience.

And then there’s the fact that your thoughts are something of a lens and what you’re thinking will of course effect how you perceive the world and interpret events. The only reality essentially is that in our own mind, so if your thoughts don’t line up with what everyone else is seeing that’s not how you’re going to see it. For instance if you are having paranoid thoughts that the world is against you, then you will interpret every slightly secretive conversation, or every hushed tone as ‘plotting’ and any kind actions will be seen as buttering you up or lulling you into a false sense of security.

These faulty thoughts can be frustrating at times, but most of us know when to ignore them and carry on. When they’re allowed to perpetuate however, then they will tend to build up and build up to the point where we have full blown psychological disorders such as paranoia, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, phobias or depression.

So how do you get on top of these thoughts and get your thinking back on track before it’s too late? Here we will look at some different strategies you can use to try and eradicate those bad thoughts. Many of these are taken from a school of psychology known as ‘CBT’ or ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’. This is currently the school of psychology that most therapist and health institutions subscribe to and its very nature means it is suited to problems such as irrational thoughts. Of course just going to a cognitive behavioral therapist is also a good idea, and if your thoughts are crippling or dangerous then you should seek professional help as soon as possible.


Mindfulness is one strategy taught in CBT which is essentially a kind of meditation. Only here, rather than trying to clear your mind, you are instead allowing it to run riot. Specifically you are going to find a comfortable space, and just let your thoughts wonder freely while you listen to where your brain goes. Try to step back and ‘watch’ your thoughts go by like watching clouds go by in the sky. This will allow you to identify the faulty thoughts that are causing damage and by recognizing them you can then try to make sure you don’t think them in the future.


Another thing you can do is to use affirmations. These are thoughts that you want to think that can replace the faulty thoughts. For instance if you’re constantly thinking ‘I hate myself’ then just replace that thought with an affirmation such as ‘I am a highly capable and pleasant person’. Just repeating this often enough either out loud or just in your head will mean that it starts to become almost habit and you will find that your thoughts default back to this affirmation rather than negative things thereby increasing your mood and your capability. If you struggle to use these affirmations because you forget or find it embarrassing, then try putting post-its up around your room with those things written on them and just read them to yourself while you go through your morning routines.

Listen to Other People

Try to be objective in how you interpret what other people say. If the people close to you are telling you you’re being silly then there’s a good chance you may well be. Use the intelligence of groups to help get your thinking back in line with everyone else. Another good strategy is to just imagine what you would tell someone else in your position. If you met someone who had your fears or your hang ups, then what would you honestly tell them? That’s probably a better line of advice to follow that the current disruptive thoughts.

Write Things Down

A specific problem that many people have is to focus too much on the negative things that people say. This means that they might get ten compliments and one insult, but focus on the insult and let it damage their self esteem. Instead you should make an effort to write down all of the positive things that people say about you and to read them back to yourself at night before bed. This way you will reinforce the positive things instead of focusing on the negative and this becomes concrete evidence that is written down and can’t be manipulated in your mind. Similarly if you have irrational thoughts about a person, make sure to write down all the evidence against your irrational thoughts. If you get nervous giving talks, then write down your experiences of them and how people reacted. This way you can weigh up the evidence far more objectively and you won’t have that cognitive bias.

Challenge Your Thoughts

Deep down you know when you’re being irrational, or at least when a thought is negative. What you need to do then is not listen to it and to instead prove it wrong. This simply takes courage, but the more you act cautiously as a result of your concern, the less likely you will be to ever get out of your thought patterns. So if you’re afraid of socializing because you think that everyone is against you – force yourself into social situations where you can get proved wrong.

Don’t let groundless phobias ruin–or even prevent–your backcountry adventures. Here’s a foolproof plan for overcoming your terrors.

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‘(Photo Illustration by Stephen Beneski)’


It’s lurking in the woods, hiding in the canyons, lying in wait on the highest mountain peaks. It’s the stuff of nightmares, making your heart pound triple-time and your hands tremble. No matter where you roam, it’s just around the corner, ready to reduce you to a quivering, whimpering mess.

It’s fear itself, of course. The most primal human emotion. For some, a distant rumble of thunder summons it; for others, a grizzly or a scorpion. It doesn’t matter what sparks the feeling—everyone has something. What matters is that it’s creeping into your backcountry experiences, ruining your trips, and driving you away from the wildest, most spectacular trails. Or perhaps even preventing you from going out at all. It’s paralyzing. It’s everywhere. And you can’t escape it.

We have good news. When a healthy dose of fear crosses the line into irrational anxiety, there’s a time-tested cure called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). To understand how it works, consider this unreasonable fear: Let’s say your nightmares are haunted by huge, fanged, poisonous spiders—creatures so scary that even a garden-variety arachnid makes you want to puke. When you’re this horrified, an eight-legged intruder at your campsite will trigger a flood of adrenaline known as the “fight or flight response”—an instinctual physical reaction to danger (real or imagined) that primes your body to either battle or escape. Fight or flight is a lifesaver in truly threatening situations, but it’s overkill in response to a harmless daddy-long-legs. “It’s like the body gets a false alarm,” explains Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “You have to override the brain to realize that it’s not dangerous.”

That’s often easier said than done. The trembling hands, hammering heart, and panic of a strong fear response are so uncomfortable that the truly frightened will do anything to keep from even thinking about spiders, much less interacting with them. It’s a hallmark of irrational fear called avoidance—and it prevents you from understanding how extremely unlikely it is that you’ll actually find a black widow in your boot. Avoidance leads to a classic cognitive error called “confusing the stakes and the odds,” says Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland. Threats are composed of two elements: how much harm the thing could possibly do (the stakes), and how likely it is that it will actually harm you (the odds). “Some people only respond emotionally to the stakes,” Winston says. “If it were to happen, and it would be terrible, then it feels dangerous—even if it’s a one-in-a-trillion chance.”

The cognitive part of CBT teaches you the truth about your fear. But it’s the behavioral part—called in vivo exposure—that’s really going to fix your phobia. “Exposure means helping someone confront what they’re scared of in a therapeutic way,” says Barbara Rothbaum, professor of psychiatry at Emory University. “It’s staying with it long enough for the anxiety to come down. And you have to do it repeatedly to teach the body and head that what appears to be frightening isn’t really dangerous.” In other words, you have to face your fears to fix them.

And it’s easier than you think. Exposure therapy is gradual and designed to keep you in control—and you can do it yourself in a matter of days. Here’s your step-by-step plan to becoming the confident, even fearless, backpacker you’ve always wanted to be.

The Phobias

Use this step-by-step guide to beat 7 common backcountry fears. Plus, ideal hikes for overcoming–or avoiding–the source of your scare.

The Fix

Conquer any fear with this DIY guide to applying a proven treatment plan called cognitive-behavioral therapy. Think of it as training for the mind.

Q&A with Psychiatry Professor Barbara Rothbaum

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The Illusion of Control

Fear is one of my favorite topics. Much of my time has been spent understanding this emotion and how I can overcome my personal fears. A sense of personal empowerment, accomplishment, and fulfillment surges with each fear I face.

The most important fact about fears that we should always bear in mind is this: Fear is not a rational response to whatever challenges stare at us in life. And it is all in our mind, within us, and not anything external to us.

The purpose of fear is to protect us from life threatening circumstances. For example: to run away when there’s a bear chasing us, or to be careful when handling live electric wires.

Fear can cause us to make an irrational response to challenges we face. Fear imposes limits on our minds, removing our clarity and leaving only negative thought patterns. Fear causes us to act emotionally because we panic, our mind shuts down and we respond instinctively to protect ourselves and our egos.

Fear hinders us in situations where there is no direct threat to life, but we might perceive a threat to our life as we know it. Fear of failure is one of the most crippling emotions that can limit your potential in life. Fear of social censure makes one feel lonely. Fear of heights takes away the joy of reaching mountain peaks and touching the clouds.

A personal story: I started photographing people, because I had a deep fear of approaching people and capturing intimate moments. I used to tell myself these stories: “I wasn’t good enough” and “Why would anyone take me, an inexperienced photographer seriously?”. I essentially created this fear because I didn’t want to “look stupid”. I eventually conquered this fear by doing it despite the fear. I used to regularly approach strangers on the street and ask to take their portraits. The first time I did this, I was shaking so hard, the picture came out blurry, but what I gained was priceless: Momentum towards a new skill and eliminating a fear. I learned that the more you do what you fear, the less you will fear it! Now, two years later, I shoot people portraits professionally and have been published in several publications for my portrait work.

Here are some tried and tested tips on how to fight your fears:

• “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” – The best method to fight any fear is to take positive action against whatever it is that you are afraid of. Is fear of failure stopping you from learning that new skill? Go ahead and learn it! This is what courage is all about: to act despite the fear. (I highly recommend Susan Jeffer’s book)

Educate Yourself – Learn more and more about the object that you are afraid of. You want to chuck your job and plunge into your own business, but are afraid of the risks involved? Then the best way to reduce the fears is to consciously learn about the business in as much depth as you can. Preparation increases confidence and calms those butterflies in the stomach. Just be aware of “Analysis-paralysis” (I will cover this topic in more depth in future posts from my own experience.).

Affirmations – Use self-affirmations that give a positive spin to whatever it is that you fear. Write these self-affirmations on a stick-it note where it is easily visible. Say you are afraid of criticism from others, then one possible self-affirmation could be – “I am outstanding. I must be outstanding for all the people I will help.”

Visualization – Positive visualization is projecting an image of yourself overcoming your fears, and is a powerful technique to fight your fears. If you are afraid of your boss, visualize that your boss is smiling at you, appreciating you, and complimenting you of a job well done. Keep this image in your mind firmly.

• “What’s the Worst Case Scenario?” – Often when this question is asked, you realize how silly the fear is. Example, if you are afraid to ask someone out on a date, what’s the worst that could happen? The other person saying “No”? It’s not that bad, right? One of my most enlightening realizations is recognizing that “I have nothing to lose”.

In my experience, we can always fight our fears, win, and get ahead in life.
What do you think?

Why do we fight with our partners? I’m not referring to small arguments that resolve reasonably quickly with a compromise. I am talking about fights that blow like a hurricane into a peaceful day and leave us broken, exhausted, and confused as we wonder, what just happened?

These consuming and crazy-making fights are generally fueled by unspoken and unnamed fears. Because most of us do not like feeling scared, we have spent years developing strategies to try to control our fear by squashing it or avoiding it. The problem is, fear does not like being forced out of town. It may ride away for a while, but it will come back, with its posse, armed and ready to force us to hear it and take it seriously.

It is often in a marriage or committed intimate relationship that our fear comes riding back into town, ready to avenge us for casting it out. We have treated fear as the enemy, so it has gone into fighting mode. In fighting mode, fear is ruthless.

In fighting mode, fear attacks by pulling us into a dark and catastrophic drama where we become so panicked and terrified that we can’t ignore the fear any longer. For example, perhaps a woman has a deep fear about being isolated and lonely. When this fear hits her periodically, she keeps it inside, trying to push it away. Eventually, the fear fights back, spinning a tragic story that features her husband as the ‘losing interest’ spouse who will eventually leave. Her mind, now controlled by fear, gathers bits and pieces of information that confirm and support this story.

Now, perhaps the relationship does need some work. Perhaps her husband has been distracted and has not been attending to the relationship. Perhaps her husband’s energy is unavailable because he is being attacked by his own fears. As in any relationship, these thorny issues of ‘give and take’ must continually be addressed and worked out.

Once fear has gone into attack mode, however, and the tragic story has been spun, there is no way to deal with these issues in a productive manner. Instead of a respectful and solution-focused conversation, the husband is now locked into the bad guy role. As a result, he may feel so trapped, frustrated and misunderstood that he is likely to lash out or run away from any discussion. This just confirms that he is the villain.

To further intensify the drama, perhaps the woman is now the villain in the partner’s fear-driven storyline. He is now seeing the woman as the demanding and ‘never satisfied’ demon in the story that was created by his underlying fear of ‘not being good enough.’ Now stuck in the demon role, the woman feels so trapped, misunderstood, and frustrated that her own story reaches a fevered pitch of terror. The relationship hangs on the edge of a cliff, with imminent doom and total destruction.

Coping with Fear in Your Relationship

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is another way to deal with fear:

1. Name the underlying fear. Some examples are: Fear of falling apart, fear of rejection, fear of not being understood, fear of being judged, fear of being alone, fear of loss, fear of change, fear of aging, fear of being overwhelmed, fear of your needs being ignored, fear of boredom, fear of lack of control, fear of failure, and fear of helplessness.

2. Tell your partner that you have some fear arising inside of you, and share those fears. Own your fears instead of blaming your partner. For example, say ‘I am feeling afraid of a loss of control of our finances’ instead of ‘You always have to be the boss with our money.’

3. Listen to your partner’s fears. Do not try to minimize, negate or ‘fix’ the fears. Do not try to bully your partner’s fear into submission. Do not belittle, humiliate, shame, and threaten the fear. Do not make snide remarks such as ‘Oh, you are always afraid of something,’ or ‘Why can’t you just relax and be happy for once?’ By trying to run the fear out of town, this technique to try to avoid a difficult conversation will backfire and leave you with a bigger mess.

4. Recognize that your partner’s fears are likely to trigger your own fears. For example, if your partner voices a fear of boredom, you may interpret this to mean that he or she is judging you as not being interesting enough, and you may feel a deep fear of rejection. It is important that you do not take over the whole discussion with your reaction-fear, and leave no space for your partner’s fear. On the other hand, it is also important that you make some room for your own fear, letting your partner know how you feel.

5. Focus on the fear and do not get detoured into specific details of the relationship. For example, don’t let ‘I feel fear of loss of control of our finances’ turn into ‘Why can’t you stop spending money on golf?’ Plan to discuss concrete and practical relationship issues at another time, when fear is not running the show. (And then stick to that plan!)

6. Contain the fears within boundaries. Recognize that these ‘fear’ talks will occur regularly throughout the course of the relationship, but keep each discussion within a reasonable time limit, such as 10 to 20 minutes. Kindly support each other to move on and enjoy life once the fears have been named and heard. Don’t set the boundary with anger and bullying by saying things like ‘Aren’t we done with this yet? Can’t you just let it go already?’ If one person is not done processing, gently but firmly plan for another time to talk the next day.

No one is very good at this. It goes against our lifelong patterns that have been set up to push fear away. Even if we move slowly in this direction, however, it can lead to a triumph of love over the destructive potential of fear, and make the difference between a relationship living or dying. That is not to say that love and acceptance transforms fear into rainbows and butterflies. Even within the arms of love, fear is still raw, painful, and deeply unsettling. But when fear becomes an accepted ‘citizen’ in the relationship, it is no longer the enemy. It’s just the colicky baby that needs your time and attention once in a while.

by Dave Carbonell, PhD

Getting rid of anxiety disorders isn’t the same as taking out the trash. If you take your trash out to the curb, it’s gone forever, and won’t come back. But when you try to dispose of chronic anxiety, you often find that this task is more like the child’s game, “Whack a Mole”. Each time you hit a mole, more moles pop up. Every effort that you make to fight against anxiety, invites more of it.

So you need to be able to work smart, not hard, to overcome anxiety disorders. This guide will help you do that.

The Anxiety Trick

The fears, phobias, and worry that you experience with chronic anxiety disorders often seem “irrational”, and difficult to overcome. That’s because there is a “Trick” to chronic anxiety problems. Have you ever wondered why fears and phobias seem like such difficult problems to solve? The reason is that chronic fears literally trick you into thinking and acting in ways that make the problem more chronic.

People get fooled into trying to solve their anxiety problems with methods that actually make them worse rather than better. They get fooled into “putting out fires with gasoline”.

The Key Fears
of Anxiety Disorders

There are six principal anxiety disorders. The fears are different, but each one relies on the same Anxiety Trick, and draws upon the same kinds of anxiety symptoms.

Here are the key fears, and typical responses, of the six main anxiety disorders.

Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

A person with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia fears that a panic attack will disable him in some way – kill him, make him crazy, make him faint, and so on. So he tries, often desperately, to protect himself from a panic attack, in various ways: by avoiding ordinary activities and locations where he thinks he might panic; by carrying objects, like water bottles and cell phones, that he hopes will protect him; by trying to distract himself from the subject of panic; and numerous other strategies. These anti-anxiety efforts usually make the problem more persistent and severe, rather than less.

The fear of driving is often a part of panic disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia)

A person with Social Phobia fears becoming so visibly and unreasonably afraid in front of other people that they will judge her as a weak, inadequate person, and no longer associate with her. She avoids social experiences, hoping that this will save her from embarrassment and public humiliation. However, her avoidance of social situations leads her to become more, rather than less, fearful of them, and also leads to social isolation.

The fear of public speaking, and the broader fear of stage fright are considered to be specific instances of Social Phobia.

Specific Phobia

A Specific Phobia is a pattern of excessive fear of some ordinary object, situation, or activity. A person with a fear of dogs, for instance, may fear that a dog will attack him; or he may be afraid that he will “lose his mind”, or run into heavy traffic, on encountering a dog.

People with phobias usually try to avoid what they fear. Unfortunately, this often creates greater problems for them. Not only do they continue to fear the object, but the avoidance restricts their freedom to enjoy life as they would see fit.

A specific phobia is usually distinguished from Panic Disorder by its narrow focus. A person with a fear of flying who has no fear of other enclosed spaces would likely be considered to have a specific phobia. A person who fears airplanes, elevators, tunnels, and bridges is usually considered to have Panic Disorder or Claustrophobia. .

A person with a Blood Phobia may fear a variety of situations, but they all involve the prospect of seeing blood. A person with a fear of vomiting (either fearing that they will vomit, or that that they’ll see someone else vomit) would be considered to have Emetophobia.

Whether you have one or multiple phobias, these are very treatable problems.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder experiences intrusive, unwelcome thoughts (called obsessions) which are so persistent and upsetting that he fears the thoughts might not stop.

In response, he tries to stop having those thoughts with a variety of efforts (called compulsions). Unfortunately, the compulsions usually become a severe, upsetting problem themselves.

For example, a man may have obsessive thoughts that he might pass swine flu on to his children, even though he doesn’t have the flu himself, and wash his hands repetitively in an effort to get rid of that thought. Or a woman may have obsessive thoughts that she left the garage door open, and repeatedly check the garage all night in an effort to stop thinking that. Not only do these efforts fail to rid the person of the unwelcome thoughts, they become a new form of torment in that person’s life.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder worries repeatedly and continually about a wide variety of possible problems, and becomes so consumed by worry that she fears the worry will eventually kill her or drive her to a “nervous breakdown”. In response, she often tries a wide variety of “thought control” methods she hopes will enable her to “stop thinking about it.” Distraction is one such effort. Unfortunately, the effort to stop thinking about it actually makes the worrisome thoughts more persistent.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

A person who has witnessed or experienced some dangerous or life threatening event (a shooting or a car crash) fears that the subsequent thoughts and powerful reminders of that event will lead to a loss of control or mental illness. The powerful symptoms of fear and upset a person experiences when recalling a terrible event are reactions to that event. However, the person gets tricked into responding to these reactions as if they were warnings of an upcoming danger, rather than painful reminders of a past one.

And Depression, too?

It’s very common for people to experience depression in response to the way anxiety disorders have disrupted their lives. Less frequently, sometimes people experienced a strong depression before the anxiety set in, and this is a different kind of problem. Either way, depressive symptoms need to be addressed in recovery, so it’s useful to know something about how depression and anxiety disorders are related.

We all experience fear and anxiety, but in this post I would like to discuss sex/gender differences in the experience of fear. Are men and women equally likely to experience particular fears and phobias (irrational and/or intense fears)? Do they have the same fear reactions? I start with the second question.

Fight-or-flight…or tend-and-befriend?

Until recently it was assumed that when faced with fearful situations, both men and women react the same way. The common reaction to fear is called the fight-or-flight response, a process triggered by the perception of threat, and characterized by various physiological changes—like faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood pressure and muscle tension, etc—that prepare the body to either fight the source of danger or to flee the scene.

When we are faced with a wild animal, the fight-or-flight response can be helpful to us. Other times, such as before an exam or work presentation, not so. Chronic activation of this response is also detrimental to our health. But the human body often errs on the side of caution.

In other words: Dangerous till proven safe .

Although both men and women experience similar physiological responses to fear and a similar fight-or-flight reaction, Shelley Taylor and colleagues at UCLA have proposed that behaviorally only females display another response called tend-and-befriend. 1

Simply put, tend-and-befriend is a behavior that aims to protect the female and her children. Tend-and-befriend is related to attachment and caregiving behavioral systems and is facilitated by oxytocin and various reproductive hormones. This behavior also includes affiliative activities aimed at strengthening the female’s social connections, connections that would be needed for protection and for access to resources.

Perhaps this is the reason why after a tough day at work, while men might want to be left alone, women are more likely to want to call a friend or focus their attention on their children.

Gender differences in fears and phobias

Now that we have considered the different ways that men and women respond to fear, let us examine the objects and situations that each gender fears the most.

In a1996 study, Fredrikson and colleagues looked at gender differences in fears and phobias in a sample of 704 people. They observed that 11% of men but 21% of the women in the group met the criteria for a specific phobia, and that 1.5% of men but 5.4% of women met the criteria for multiple phobias. 2 That is, women were significantly more likely than men to meet the criteria for a phobia, and almost four times more likely to have multiple phobias.

In addition, the authors noted that while equal portion of men and women had fears of injections, dentists, and injuries, twice as many women as men had “situational” phobias (fears of flying, heights, darkness, lightning, and enclosed spaces). The biggest difference between genders, however, concerned phobias of snakes and spiders, which were reported by four times as many women as men.

Similar results have been found across a number of other studies, with the general conclusion being that there is a strong association between the female gender and fear of snakes, spiders, and other animals and insects considered disgusting/repulsive. 2,3

Another robust finding across studies is that women, compared to men, report “higher fear ratings for all objects and situations.” 2


Gender differences are reflected in both how each gender responds to fear and in the particular objects or situations that each gender fears.

The fight-or-flight physiological response is common to both men and women while the tend-and-befriend behavior is more likely to occur in women. Women are also more likely than men to experience more fears regardless of the situation, and much more fear of disgusting or repulsive insects and animals.


1. Taylor, S. E., Klein, L. C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. (2000). Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: Tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight. Psychological Review, 107(3), 411-429.

2. Fredrikson, M., Annas, P., Fischer, H., & Wik, G. (1996). Gender and age differences in the prevalence of specific fears and phobias. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34, 33−39.

3. Davey, G. C. L. (1994). Self-reported fears to common indigenous animals in an adult UK population: The role of disgust sensitivity. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 541−554.

How to fight your irrational fears and stay strong

Fear can immobilize us in many ways and in many situations. It prevents us from thinking new thoughts, having new experiences, and developing into a better person. I’m sure you know fear as the emotion causing you to experience the fight or flight response in order to protect yourself when a threat is present. Fear in this sense is very valuable. Though, many times we experience fear when there is no real or present danger. This type of fear is irrational, self-defeating, and not at all life protecting. Any time we are trying to make a change in life, or are taking a risk that has uncertainty, we will probably experience this fear response. How do you respond when fear creeps into your life? Managing fear can come from gaining awareness of the limiting behavioral responses we have, and beginning to take a growth mindset toward change and risk taking. Here are 5 responses to watch out for that can limit you from ever flourishing in life.

1. Comfort zones

Whenever a big change or new opportunity arrives it’s common that some fear or anxiety might emerge about the uncertainty. When we experience this fear it can make us want to run back to our comfort zone where we know we can handle things and feel a sense of safety. Fear tells us that change is dangerous and bad. It leads us to think, “if I change there’s a chance I won’t be able to handle things.” Know that when you are getting outside of your comfort zone it will feel unnatural, scary, and maybe even wrong, but this is only at first. Ultimately, when there is no clear and present danger, fear in these instances means you are growing.

2. Defensive behavior

When we don’t feel confident and have a sense of insecurity, fear can develop and lead us to be on the defensive. When we get defensive we can start reacting hastily and irrationally instead of proactively and intentionally deciding what to do. We may take things personally and attribute any lack of confidence to our personal skills and character. When you notice you’re being defensive consider where this is coming from. Is it because you are scared and threatened? What would be a more effective and empowering way to solve the problem?

3. Avoidance

When problems emerge and uncertainty arises avoiding our problems may be one of the easiest traps to fall into. We want to do everything in our power to avoid the person, places, or things that trigger our painful fear, and the quickest and most sure fire way to do so is avoidance. Though, avoiding prevents us from ever really dealing with things and keeps us trapped in a fearful and avoidant cycle. When we avoid ever stepping outside our comfort zone and pushing past our limits we will never thrive to our fullest potential.

4. Attack

When we feel in danger, fighting back or lashing out may be a natural response in order to protect ourselves, but often irrational fears lead to this response when it’s uncalled for. When fear turns to anger or aggression it can end up causing much more damage than doing good. We may blame others, burn bridges, and actually harm ourselves or others. Attacking is a way of trying to hold onto power and regain a sense of control when we feel overwhelmed by fear. This is only an illusion, and responding in this way will only hold you back from knowing what you’re truly capable of.

5. Ways not to loose

When we believe defeat is in sight we may start to focus on how we can prevent loosing instead of how we can win. When we focus on what may be lost instead of what is to be gained our perspective is geared toward a defensive and protective stance. In order to achieve want we desire, we want to find ways to win and stay focused on what we want, instead of what we don’t want. Next time you have a chance to make a opportunistic change pay attention to what you’re focusing on. Are you focusing on what could be lost? Or, are you focusing on how to win and what can be gained?

How to fight your irrational fears and stay strong

Everyone is afraid of something, and we damn well should be. That’s because fear is what keeps us safe in the face of poisonous snakes, huge tornados, and other threatening situations. But sometimes that normal fight-or-flight response can go a bit haywire, and that’s when fear turns into a phobia.

With a true phobia, the threat of injury or death is greatly exaggerated or even nonexistent, but the fear still persists, according to an article on Think of your own phobias, and you’ll see what I mean. For example, it may seem like that spider on the wall is going to leap across the room, attach to your face, and ruin all your hopes and dreams for the future. But really it’s just going to sit there, ignore you, and maybe look a little gross. If you have arachnophobia, you may pack your bags and stay at your friend’s house for the night. Someone without the phobia would probably just ignore the spider, or put it outside. (See the difference?)

So where do such phobias come from? As psychologist Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, says in an interview with Bustle over email, “Simply put, a phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something . Usually somewhere in their childhood they associated this ‘thing’ with fear, or had a bad experience.”

Wherever your fear came from, one this is true — it is possible to work on your phobias. It may not be easy, and it may take a quite a while, but you can see some improvements and get on with your life. Below are some techniques to try out, so you can overcome your phobia once and for all.

1. Try To Desensitize Yourself

If you get really overwhelmed by the thought of tackling your phobia, then the desensitization technique may be right for you. All you do is gradually expose yourself to the dreaded thing or situation (i.e., crowded streets, bugs, heights), and then withdraw when your anxiety becomes excessive, according to John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on The next time, push yourself a bit further. And so on and so forth until the fear (hopefully) goes away completely.

2. Give Biofeedback A Try

Biofeedback is a super space age-y way to witness your stress responses. During a session, a doctor will attach electrodes to your skin. On a nearby monitor, you’ll see things like your heart rate, breath rate, and muscle activity. As Kristi A. DeName said on, “Biofeedback gives the anxious person the opportunity to view his or her physiological responses to stress.” It’s hoped that such awareness can eventually lead to better relaxation techniques. Pretty cool, right?

3. Go For The Flooding Technique

Think about a claustrophobic person riding an elevator all day long, or a germaphobe smearing their hands on dirty door knobs. This technique is just as it sounds — you repeatedly and fully expose (or flood) yourself to a situation until it feels less scary. “It is expected that the amygdala will learn that nothing awful happens, and stop releasing stress hormones,” said Tom Bunn L.C.S.W. said on Psychology Today. Flooding may be difficult to do, but it’s worth a try.

4. Get Help From The Partnership Method

If you’re about to go into a situation that scares you — such as a crowed mall — think about requesting the company of a friend. If you afraid of walking alone through the masses, have your friend walk a certain distance ahead of you, and then wait for you to catch up. “After walking to meet her or him at the location, the individual will walk further ahead before you meet her or him again,” said Grohol. Gradually you’ll work up to walking longer distances alone. And ta-da! This type of fear can be pretty much solved.

5. Attend A Support Group

Support groups help you realize you aren’t alone, or weird, or crazy, and knowing this can go a long way in getting past a fear. Plus, being around like-minded people who all want to get better increases your chance of recovery. So go find a meeting, or a chat group online, and start working on your issues together.

6. Try Some Medication

It’s wonderful if you can feel better on your own. But it’s also perfectly OK to help your recovery along with medication, if your doctor sees fit. According to WebMD, there are three types of drugs that work well with phobias. The first are beta blockers, which block the stimulating effects of adrenaline in the body. Then there are antidepressants to help alter your mood. And finally sedatives, like Xanax, which can help lessen the feeling of anxiety. Ask your doctor which kind would be best.

7. Self-Exposure Therapy

This is a good one for people who don’t have the time (or the cash) for fancy therapy sessions. According to, self-exposure therapy, a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be done using self-help books, self-help groups, or online self-help programs. Basically, you take it into your own hands, and take on that phobia all on your own.

8. Read Up On The Topic

Let’s say you’re afraid of flying. Reading all about how planes work, flight statistics, and safety measures will help you feel more in control of the situation. The same thing applies for pretty much any phobia. A little knowledge can go a long way in lessening your fears.

9. Climb The “Fear Ladder”

The fear ladder technique works pretty well if the other methods seem like too much. It may be that you started off with something that was too scary or overwhelming, according to an article on Instead, begin with a situation you can handle, and work up from them. For example, let’s say you’re afraid of dogs. You may look at a photo of dogs, then watch a video of dogs, then look at a dog through a window, then stand 10 feet away from a small dog, then 5 feet away, and so on until you’re able to pet dogs without being afraid.

10. Learn Relaxation Techniques

One of the worst parts about phobias is the physical reactions — shallow breathing, pounding heart, etc. — that can actually make the anxiety worse. So relaxation techniques may come in handy to help soothe your panic. By breathing deeply from the abdomen, you can reverse these physical sensations, according to

11. Do It Anyway

If you’ve ever given something up because you were scared, then you know the value of “doing it anyway.” Because yes, planes are scary, and heights are scary, and spiders are scary. But that doesn’t mean you should never fly, or go hiking, or venture into the woods ever again. Let the anxiety come, and then do your best to push forward.

Yes, phobias suck, especially since they can lead to a pretty limited life. Try to yours under control ASAP, and get back to enjoying your life.