You must have heard that fear is a primary human emotion that evolved to aid our survival. But have you ever come across the notion that regards fear as an illusion?
Author Rachelle Dekker first suggested it. The reasoning behind this idea is the fact that our fears are the works of our brains. The resulting limitations are, too, what we set for ourselves. Much like an illusion, fears are seen as irrational reactions to innocuous stimuli in our environment.
While this may sound rational, we need to remember that most of our emotions, including fear, are not bound by reason. Relegating fears to the status of illusions is like saying that all our emotions are illusions too. This invalidates the actual fear experiences that people go through.
Your fears are not mere illusions. They are honest, and they can be conquered. Here are five fundamental questions about fear. The answers to these will help you overcome yours.
1) What does fear leave us feeling like?
Two fears common to all humans are the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Thanks to these innate fears, fear is a feeling we are all familiar with.
So to know what fear feels like, we could pause for a moment and observe our bodily sensations. This, however, may seem like a ridiculous suggestion. Because in most cases, fear leaves us immobilized. The changes in our body transpire so quickly that we can only make sense of them afterward. And the last thing we would want to do is to observe what we’re feeling.
A host of hormones are released as our body starts preparing itself for a fight or flight reaction. Tightness in our chests comes about, which leaves us short of breath. Our heart rates and blood pressures elevated. Our throats and mouths dry up. We feel nauseated, and our stomachs start becoming upset. Chills pass down the spine, and our pupils begin to dilate. Other physiological processes that our body deems unnecessary, like digestion, are slowed down.
These are the range of feelings that take shape when we experience fear. Being aware of these changes can help us confront our fears by rightly identifying them.
2) Where in our body is fear generated?
The almond-shaped structure in our brain, the Amygdala, handles our fear reactions. When we encounter a potentially threatening stimulus, the sensory information is passed on to the thalamus. This is the relay station in the brain. It further conveys the message to the amygdala and the cortices (the thinking centers). But the message reaches the amygdala a lot faster. Little to no time is devoted to rational intervention. And hence, our emotional reactions to events are almost instantaneous.
This explains why a playful jump scare or a rustle from the bushes at night elicits fear in us. Even though we may know it’d be nothing. Since fear is what our brains resort to naturally, we must know how to deal with it.
3) Why is it essential that we deal with our fears?
When your fear reaches a point that interferes with your functioning, it becomes maladaptive. It would not allow you to perform your best, be it wherever – at school/ at work/ in relationships. At its most potent form, when gripped with fear, it can leave you paralyzed. This can be destructive, with at times, situations escalating to becoming risks to your life. For example, when fear takes control of your body in the middle of a busy road, the result could be fatal. This contradicts the original purpose of fear as an evolutionary mechanism that had helped our ancestors survive by looking out for dangers.
Although the threats our way today are fewer and less dangerous, the workings of fear remain the same. Therefore, irrespective of the risk posed, successfully dealing with anxiety can boost our confidence. And also our self-esteem. This can be an additional perk of dealing with fears.
4) How can we directly deal with our fears?
Are you done waiting to beat your fears and are ready to take things up in your own hands? Here are some techniques that you can put to use.
- Make friends with your fear.
When we meet someone for the first time, we wonder, “Who is this person?” You’d start thinking of all the possible things they could be because you don’t know them. When you do not know someone, they can be everything. But, you start talking and gradually get to know each other better. They may eventually even go on to becoming your best friend or the person you are closest to.
Treat your fears the same way. When you do not know your fear, it is scarier. Try to understand your fear and all its details. Introspect and probe your fear to see where it may stem from. Understand your anxiety and what it constitutes. The lesser a mystery your fear remains, the more comfortable you’ll feel facing it.
- Verbalize your fears
Putting your fear into words by verbalizing it and talking about it normalizes it. This can be overwhelming, but you must remember that there are no deadlines on a journey such as this. You are allowed to take your own time, however slow, however fast. While doing so, if you happen to feel that things are getting out of hand, that you need to take a break, you may do so.
Sharing your joy doubles it, sharing your sorrow halves it – I started believing in this only after I tried it out. Keep in mind that there are people who care about you, with whom you can talk about your fears. They may even help you look at your concern from a new perspective, one you might not have considered earlier.
Maintaining a journal has multiple benefits. This includes being able to express your emotions and monitor your growth. You could also maintain a journal and pour your heart out, time and again.
- Implement Lifestyle changes
You can spend time in nature every day or engage in spiritual practices. These better connect you to the world outside. This faith in forces greater than ourselves can guide you in getting through difficult phases.
Incorporating similar changes in your lifestyle will have more significant implications in the long run. Take up meditation, or try out yoga, any activity that promotes peace and calm. Mindfulness is another such practice. This will keep you mentally firm and strengthen your ability to face your fears.
- Rationalize your fears
Force yourself to bring reason into the context of your fear and think about your anxiety in rational terms. One trick that I picked up from a TV show that I love is to imagine all the worst-case scenarios possible. Deliberately think of how your encounter with your fear could go and voice it out. By doing so, you may come to realize how hysterical they may sound.
- Do it Scared
As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat fear, do it scared”. Even if something scares you, convince yourself to allow yourself to face the fear. You can listen to motivational videos and podcasts about beating anxiety all you want, but it truly comes to fruition only when you decide to get into action. The first time will be the hardest, but you need to have gone through the first to get to a second time and more.
5) Who can we reach out to in case we need help tackling our fears?
Seeking help is healthy, as it gets you to admit that you need help in the first place. And when you reach out for help, you will not be denied it.
You can connect with a therapist practicing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or a similar mental health professional. They can help you work through your fears. You may also enroll yourself in a support group that convenes regularly. One that talks about people’s fears and troubles.
Fear is a feeling, much more physical than we’d have imagined. This multifaceted attribute is what makes dealing with fear an imperative. It may seem like the ultimate goal of this article is to help you eradicate all your fears and lead a fearless life. Is it possible, however, to live a life devoid of dangers that produce fear? Not quite.
Nevertheless, you can still live fearlessly if you learn to cope with your fears effectively. Learn to overcome your fears, that no matter how many such episodes are hauled your way, you can keep on overcoming them. The secret to a life free from worries is not the complete absence of threats but rather to not fear.