What Are You So Scared Of?

Everyone gets the willies sometimes, but fear doesn’t have to take over your life.

Illustrations by Leon Edler

When you were a little kid, you probably weren’t that hard to scare. Maybe all it took was a spooky Halloween movie that made you terrified to look under the bed. Now that you’re older, you know that the most frightening thing you’d find under the bed is a pile of dirty socks. But that doesn’t mean your fears have vanished. No matter how old you are, there’s probably something you’re afraid of.

Some fears are common: We all worry about the future, especially when we see troubling things on the news. Other fears may seem less rational, like being terrified of spiders. Whether or not your fear feels justified, it’s there for a reason, says Carolyn Sorkin. She’s a psychologist who specializes in teen anxiety. “Our emotions tell us what we need,” she says. “So it’s important to pay attention to them.” 

In fact, acknowledging your fears and learning how to manage them can help you feel more confident and less stressed. Read on to learn about some common fears people (maybe you!) experience, and get advice from the experts about how to face them.

Fear of . . . Missing Out (FOMO)

It’s Friday night and you’re exhausted. All you want to do is snuggle up with your cat, and enjoy your favorite snacks and latest Netflix obsession. But just as you’re about to tell your friends you can’t hang, you see them posting on social media about how much fun they’re having. Now you’re experiencing major second thoughts. What if they all have the best time ever and you miss it? 

How to Face It: Remind yourself how excited you were to have a quiet night to relax and recharge. Everyone has different needs when it comes to being with people and being alone, and your needs might be different from your friends’. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with wanting some time to yourself. Your friends will still be there the next time you’re feeling social and want to hang. To fully enjoy your “me time” without regrets, take a break from social media. Put your phone in another room or download an app that will limit your scrolling and prevent you from checking on what your friends are doing every 10 minutes. Remind yourself that the point of alone time is to focus on appreciating the moment you’re in rather than worrying that you’re missing out on a different moment. Enjoy your night alone!

Fear of . . . Spiders

Yes, you get that spiders are more than a thousand times smaller than you and almost always harmless, but they’re just so . . . crawly. All it takes is the sight of a spiderweb for your heart to start racing. And don’t even mention going into a dank basement or anyplace else spiders like to live. You know this fear is (mostly) irrational, but even thinking about spiders makes you terrified. You’d love to stop feeling this way, but how? 

How to Face It: This kind of fear is called a phobia. (See “You’re Scared of What?”) Though a phobia can be of something that really is potentially dangerous (like some spiders or snakes), in order for a fear to be a phobia, the fear should be out of proportion to the actual danger the thing presents. One approach to overcome phobias is to slowly work up your exposure to the thing you’re afraid of. (See “What Is Exposure Therapy?”) You can also do some research on spiders to reassure yourself that nearly all of them are not dangerous (and they’re actually useful and fascinating creatures). 

Fear of . . . Failure

You’ve been singing in private your whole life, and your showerhead thinks you’re the next Justin Bieber. You’d love to share your passion for song with the world, but the thought of trying out for your school’s choir makes you break out in a cold sweat. What if you open your mouth and no sound comes out? What if you don’t get accepted, and the whole school thinks you’re a terrible singer? You really want to take the risk, but it’s just so SCARY. 

How to Face It: First, acknowledge that it’s normal to feel nervous about trying out for something. If there wasn’t a chance you could fail, it wouldn’t feel like a risk. Then ask yourself what the worst thing is that could realistically happen. Say you go up onstage, open your mouth, and forget every word of your song. So what? Even if you mess up and don’t get into the choir, your life won’t really be ruined. Plus, the experience will help you the next time you audition. Don’t think of it as failure, think of it as practicing for success. 

Fear of . . . Flying

You’ve been looking forward to your family vacation for months. There’s only one problem. This year, you have to take an airplane for the trip, and you’re freaked out by the idea of flying. You know air travel is actually really safe, but you can’t help worrying about something going wrong with the plane. At the same time, you’d be crushed to miss the trip. What should you do?

How to Face It: “Think about how you would talk to a younger version of yourself,” Sorkin says. “You might say, ‘I know you get scared when you fly, but you’re going to be OK.’” Another helpful strategy can be visualizing the flight. Imagine yourself getting on the plane and fastening your seat belt. Maybe you’ll read a new book during the flight or watch a funny movie. Then picture yourself landing safely. Focus on how great you’ll feel walking off the plane and how much fun you’ll have on your vacation.

Fear of . . . The World

You’re scrolling through the news on your phone, and you can’t believe all the awful things happening. It seems like there’s something new to be terrified about every day. How are you supposed to go about your life when sometimes it really does feel like the world is ending?

How to Face It: The world can definitely feel like a scary place. When you’re young, its easy to feel powerless about everything that’s going on. You might also want to avoid thinking about it altogether. But doing something about what’s worrying you can help you manage your fear. Even better, your actions really will make a difference. Pick a cause you’re concerned about and find a way to get involved. Join a club at your school, write letters to your elected representative, volunteer for an organization that supports your cause, or participate in a local march. And remember that while it’s important to stay up-to-date on current events, it’s also a good idea to take a break from the news when it feels too heavy. Be sure to tell a parent or trusted adult if your fears about the world feel overwhelming. You might even inspire them to fight for change with you. 

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