We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Fear is vital for human survival. It is there to keep us safe from danger.
Fear activates the stress response: fight, flight or freeze. A variety of physiological changes occur giving us extraordinary capabilities. We may find we can run faster than we have ever done before, be stronger (lift a vehicle off a toddler) or our senses may be more acute so that we can hear, smell or see exceptionally well.
Fear can be paralyzing.
This is fine if we’re faced with a snake. It is less helpful if we are going to a new school or job, a dance class or when giving a talk. Times that may feel challenging but if we move through the fear, we are likely to develop greater confidence, learn new skills and have fun.
If we allow fear to control us, there is a tendency to become isolated or anti-social, feel depressed, be over-anxious or have panic attacks.
In addition, fear and chronic stress affect the brain and can prevent us from thinking clearly.
Chronic fear causes chronic stress.
Almost every major illness that people acquire has been linked to chronic stress.
(Segerstrom and Miller 2004; Kopp and Rethelyi 2004; McEwen and Lasky 2002; McEwen and Seeman 1999)
The purpose of the stress response is to allow us to move safely through dangerous situations. Then under normal, natural circumstances when the danger has passed we would relax and get on with our day. But we don’t live in normal circumstances. Many people live in a state of constant fear and chronic stress.
The fear may be of strangers, financial ruin or a million other things. Not to mention all the tragedies and disasters seen on the news and social media. If we imagine those fearful things happening, our bodies respond by activating the stress response. Adrenalin courses through our system, our digestion is affected, our breathing, blood pressure and many other physiological changes take place and continue running, causing untold damage to our health, until we stop being afraid and stressed.
If we can control our fears, we can regain control over our lives.
What are you afraid of?
It can be challenging to drop a fear. That fear may have been with you all your life. You may even feel that your fear keeps you safe. Maybe you have adopted fears from your parents, siblings or friends.
Fear needs to be moved through, not held onto or turned away from. Here are some suggestions to help you.
- Choose one fear that you would like to release.
- Spend a few minutes three times a day imagining it has vanished.
- What has replaced the fear? Spend time feeling those fear-replacing feelings (perhaps confidence or calmness).
- If your fear is of something that you need to learn a skill to cope with, such as swimming or public speaking, find a beginner class to join. Before each class remind yourself that you are getting closer and closer to having mastered that skill.
• I can do it;
• I can move confidently, calmly and safely through my day;
• Every day in every way I am getting better and better.
Be patient with yourself.