The EMOTION of FEAR

What is fear? Is it a physical response? A mental experience? An inner anxiety? A belief? A memory? There are many ways to define it. We generally can agree that fear is a powerful and primitive human emotion. One common definition of fear goes like this: Fear is a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat, which causes a change in metabolic and organ functions (increased heart rate, redirection of blood flow, tensing of muscles, shutting off of immune system and high brain function to conserve energy for flight) and ultimately a change in behavior, such as fleeing, avoiding, hiding, or freezing from perceived traumatic events. An irrational fear is called a phobia. Fear is a good thing when we learn to protect ourselves from dangers such as falling off a cliff or avoiding fire. We want to run away from a bear or gun fire. This is how we survive. Fear also can motivate us or help us to strive to do well. For example, when we are preparing to give a speech, a little fear or anxiety is normal and might prompt us to prepare well. Some people love the fear of of jumping out of planes or climbing mountains. BUT when we begin to respond to daily events, challenges, and tasks with fear-based responses we are putting ourselves in a position of self-sabotage. Fear can be be paralyzing. This kind of fear no longer is about surviving a life threatening situation or pushing us to excel. It becomes about fear of what MIGHT happen in any situation. Will I get fired? Will I ever be loved? Will I be able to pay my rent this month? Will I get this report done on time? Am I good enough? What if I get lost driving across town? What if I get stuck in that elevator? What if those kind of people move in next door? What will happen? Fear of the unknown and uncomfortable. Another definition of FEAR that applies here is FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL. (This is the kind of fear driving a lot of chaos and division in our world today.) It is more about our mental perceptions and beliefs than actual external threats. This type of perpetual fear (and its cousins - worry and anxiety) can keep us from seeing the choices before us and make us doubt our ability to overcome challenges. Fear can sap our energy, hold us back, keep us from trying something new, make us question ourselves and others, make us lose sleep, and keep us from finding creative solutions. It can increase stress hormones in our body, increase our heart rate, deplete our immune system, and make us gain weight. Fear can drive us to respond to others with distrust and anger and repel others who could be our allies. (Note: Distrust and anger have their place in our lives too, but, like fear, they can get out of control if allowed to have too much power over us.) Fear can make us more likely to shame others and behave in cruel ways thereby compounding our internal stress and our external chaos. For many people, it feels as if fear is something out of our control. It overtakes us (along with anger.) It feels so deep and instinctive and in some ways it is. But in our world today, our systems can get triggered to live in a fear-based mindset that works against our efforts to be healthy, kind, and contributing human beings in the world. We must interrupt these patterns at some point in the cycle and find ways to calm the "beast within" or soothe the savage heart. It is possible. The first pathway to reducing fear simply is to be aware of it. Mindfulness and Awareness techniques are not "New Age" fads. They are time tested methods for being present and witnessing the thoughts and feelings within us in each moment. We then can be more intentional and can make better choices for our greatest good (and the good of those around us.) It is about taking responsibility for our actions and behaviors by being aware of the generating forces within us. It is NOT about shaming ourselves or berating ourselves for feeling fear or anger but rather witnessing these feelings with compassion and discernment to keep them from "driving the bus" (off the cliff.) Usually underneath fear and anger we find deeper issues of sadness, shame, helplessness, grief, and worthiness. Compassion is important. Another way to reduce fear is to gain information (about how our bodies work) and education (on whatever it is we fear). Giving ourselves time to develop skills and data allows us to calm the mental fears and re-frame our responses. For example, as a child we may have learned to be afraid to ask to have our needs met because we got in trouble for doing so. As an adult we still may fear asking for what we need. We can learn how do take care of ourselves, ask for help, and set boundaries once we understand the pattern we are holding onto. We also can begin to question our beliefs and thoughts. "Why am I afraid? What is the worst that can happen? Why do I think it won't work out? What would I like to see happen? Why do I believe what I believe? Who made those rules? Who taught me to be afraid?" "How can I restate my fears in more realistic ways?" (for example, "I am afraid I don't have enough money." might be restated as "I don't know yet how I will pay my bills but if I stop and make a plan I believe I can make this work.") This immediately shifts the energy and creates options rather than a sense of helplessness. Questioning our responses can cause them to lose power and might ultimately enlighten us in ways we didn't expect. Journaling such questions can be helpful. One of the most effective methods, because it can be done in real time as we are experiencing fear, anger, or anxiety, is to work with the physiological responses in the body to stop the cycle. Using techniques like EFT/Tapping or Breathing Exercise to slow the heart rate or a Mantra to interrupt racing thoughts can help us to redirect the energy. Misplaced fear is misguided energy. We don't want to fear the fear..(It is a part of us that is trying to protect us...however misguided). We want to befriend it and transform it. That energy then can be used more productively. Suggestion: For your new year resolution list you might consider choosing one fear you have in life and commit to explore it more this year. What is the fear? How long has it been there? What forms does it take? How does it express itself? What are you missing out on because of it? What does it prevent you from doing? Why do you think it is there? What other emotions come with it? What would life be like if you didn't have this fear? What would you do differently if you didn't have this fear? You have all year to befriend it and transform it into an ally. You can do it. ~ Lori Sweet

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