Making fear your friend rather than your enemy…
Fear- we all experience it.
How can we make it a positive experience? Even a pathway to love?
Fear can range anywhere from a mild yet persistent queasiness in our gut to a mind numbing sheer terror and everything in between. Science tells us that fear is part of our most primal survival system yet most of us judge fear as an icky, unpleasant feeling we need to control or get rid of as quickly as possible, whilst imagining a blissful time in the future when we could live totally free of it.
Yet have you noticed how we love, even crave excitement- an upcoming party or taking a risk on a job? Interestingly fear and excitement are basically the same experience in the body, it’s how we deal with them that makes them different. More on this later.
We actually need fear.
It forms a vital part of life as our inborn importance detector.
Because when we have fear about something, whether it is walking down a dark city street alone late at night, feeling disconnected in our relationship or looking at our latest bank statement where our expenses are exceeding our income, fear is telling us to be careful, the stakes are high here.
Fear is telling us something important is happening and we need to be awake and to pay attention.
It is a call to action to focus on and sort out what is important and in our daily lives this can be invaluable.
When we take control in fear and take action the fear is resolved.
When we let fear control us our mind generated stories run a muck and chaos often follows.
In our modern society fear is highly overdone.
Our ancestors had immediate and deadly things to be afraid of, like a wild bear or a neighbouring tribe on the warpath and the actions needed to be taken were obvious. Our problem in today’s information age is that technology offers us a constant stream of information about many things to be aware of with little we can actually DO about them, leaving us in a constant state of low level anxiety. Things like rising crime statistics, international terrorism and the potential collapse of our financial markets etc. Well, theoretically we can choose to address one or two of these through a personal crusade for change but it’s impossible for us to personally fix everything. However we still have to deal with the fear that comes at us, sometimes feeling like a constant barrage.
We also live more intellectually these days where fear is largely a mind driven emotion. Moments of fear that are real and life threatening are a more rare experience, although they do happen, for example experiencing serious illness or being a victim of crime.
How do we make fear our friend?
What do we do with the underlying stress and anxiety that comes from dealing with either this constant existential barrage of fear, or the more intimate fears we experience in our personal lives?
We take action on the inside of us.
Firstly, we can choose to see fear as a positive messenger.
Secondly, we can understand the nature of fear.
Fear is an emotion
It’s triggered in the pre-thought primal, survival part of our brain, stimulating the release of adrenaline and cortisol- our stress management hormones that create tension in the body, increase our heart rate and breathing, sending blood away from organs to essential muscles whilst maintaining essential body systems and focusing our attention making us ready to fight, flee or freeze as appropriate.
Extended periods of fear can result in stress that leads to suppressed immunity, high blood pressure, fatigue, irritability, reduced libido, poor memory, excessive hair and bone loss, diabetes and a host of other chronic diseases that have you functioning at a less than optimal level.
Experiences of fear commonly include anxiety and worry but can also extend to unease, apprehension, nervousness, timidity, unrest, fearfulness, distress, holding on, foreboding, doubt, catastrophizing, alarm, paralysis, dread, fright, panic, phobia, aversion, mania, terror, horror.
Energetically fear is seen as stuck energy in our body and its symptoms begin with butterflies or unease in the stomach and increased muscle tension with hyper alertness and heightened negative thoughts, building to nausea, cold, tingling, agitation, shaking, feeling frozen or unable to think or move, and at its most extreme we can experience a complete dissociation from the body.
You may notice you can experience fear just in reading about it! If this is you, please pause and take a few deep breaths to release it.
Mentally we experience fear as negative thoughts about a future event, real or imagined that we perceive to be out of our control. The bigger the fear the more frequent and negative the thoughts become.
Such as, my husband is late home from work so- my mind says he must have got the sack and is too scared to tell me, or maybe he is having a drink with his attractive new PA, maybe he is finding me too boring, I even think he wants out of this relationship etc. Or perhaps the boss hasn’t stopped by to chat on his way home for the last few days, maybe he is unhappy with the work that I’ve been doing and is looking to give someone else that position I’ve been knocking myself out for…
How we think makes a difference in fear
This negative thought spiral of course creates more fear in the body which drives a further catastrophizing of the thoughts creating even more fear, it becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break…
As well as how we breathe
And most importantly in fear our breath becomes shallow and rapid, happening only in the upper part of our chest; in extreme fear we may stop breathing altogether.
So in fear, we are breathing shallowly and creating story by telling ourselves something bad is going to happen that is beyond our control.
Fear is related to control and power…
Interestingly the only difference between the experience of fear and excitement is that in excitement we continue to breathe normally or more strongly and tell ourselves something good is going to happen, where being out of control can be enjoyable! In this way feeling fear can be part of feeling truly alive if we accept it as such…
This is why some people really love horror movies, rollercoasters, extreme sports or edgy sex where they experience fear as excitement in (they believe) a positive environment.
We experience fear most powerfully in our solar plexus which is energetically the centre of power of our Ego self. This is why negative fears are based on experiences of feeling out of control and of doubting our capabilities to take action and positive ones the opposite.
And why having a positive plan of action will put us in the driver’s seat of fear.
Thirdly- learning what to do with fear.
(the order of the following steps will vary depending on the situation, but each of them will help):
- Get grounded by feeling your feet on the floor, or your butt on the chair or put your hand up in front of your face and focus on its flesh and blood reality.
- Check your body and notice what you are doing with your breathing and take 1, 2 or a few slow, deep breaths. Taking deep breaths will guide you in finding your sense of control. The most powerful deep breath is out through your mouth with an “ah”.
- Accept the fear. It’s already there so trying to fight it is a losing battle. What works, as paradoxical as it sounds is making it ok, seeing it as a good thing.
- Ask yourself what is real here? Am I at risk? Shine a light on the facts?
– Is there a wild animal or perpetrator about to catch me?
– Am I actually unsafe here?
– Do these numbers on my tax calculations add up to what I think they do?
– I don’t actually know yet why my husband is late coming home from work, I just know he is late
– All I know is the boss hasn’t stopped by, at this point I don’t know the reason
- Stay in the present moment, the here and now, with what you know is real and what you can deal with. None of us truly know what is going to happen in the future because it hasn’t happened yet and 98% of what we worry about doesn’t happen. So save yourself the stress by checking in with yourself and asking how real is this fear story? If you don’t know it’s real, let it go. If it is, act on it.
- Ask yourself is what can you do to make a difference to your situation, some practical step that will allow your fear to shift (remember fear is about stuckness so moving will help it dissolve and will also help you feel more empowered).
– It doesn’t have to be the best thing, or even the right thing, just something to get you moving. Like doing those taxes or talking to your boss.
– If you have no idea what to do then do nothing, but do it actively ie. deep breathe, stretch, a good shake (like an animal does after it has had a shock to restore its equilibrium), have a cup of tea, go for a walk, sit up against a tree or talk to someone (not about the fear unless you can do it without dramatizing your situation), as human contact can help us feel real again.
– You will be amazed at how often choosing this step will allow a previously unthought of solution to appear, or previously unavailable energy arise.
- Have compassion for yourself and know that fear is a universal human experience that everyone faces many times in their lives, it is not happening to you because you alone are inadequate.
- You cannot rid yourself of fear as nature abhors a vacuum. You must first bring something else in its place- either a deep breath, a positive thought or action, or even love itself, for as the bible says in John 4:1,8 “perfect love casts out fear”, no matter what your particular version of love is.
This is particularly true in the case of existential anxiety, the anxiety we can do little about at a practical level. In this case simply placing a hand on your heart, breathing into and connecting with the love that literally lives within you through thinking of something that you feel truly grateful for will create a shift (even if your heart connection takes a minute or two to show up, it will).
- Understand that fear is an emotion created through an experience with your external world (even if that experience is just a thought about what could happen) and as deep and intense as they can feel at times, emotions are on the surface of who we are. The more you accept and breathe into it, experiencing it fully (ie. bringing love in) the more it will dissolve leaving you with the ease, clarity, openness, spaciousness or love that lies at our core behind. This is how fear can be a pathway to love.
Nb. If the fear is very intense it may become even more so as you first breathe into it but trusting your breath and the process and staying with it will allow it to leave your body. And remember the more intensity the more good things will arise after it.
Nb. If you have nervousness in the early stages of lovemaking using your breath to master it will enhance your experience of pleasure within the act itself.
- To minimize ongoing mind generated anxiety ask yourself on a regular basis, am I choosing life from a place of love, or a place of (exaggerated) fear? Get familiar with choosing life from your heart, from love. Practicing the above steps is choosing from love.
The choice is up to you.
Courage is not the absence of fear but action in the face of it.
Will you choose to make fear your enemy or your friend?
This is the power in your hands.