Fear is deep rooted and plagues our ability to be happy, imaginative, exploratory and live life in it’s fullest form. In this article, you will see a humanist and spiritual approach to overcome fear.
Fear – In Simple Words
Fear is our body’s natural response to a physical or emotional danger. For instance, danger of burning hands on a stove is a physical danger. So is getting hit by a car on a road. These are real world dangers. On the other hand, fear of meeting or dating new people or clearing a job interview have an emotional construct. These are psychological in nature.
What Fear Does To People
We as human beings are product of two things:
a) Our Cultural or Religious Backgrounds and Upbringing – We respond to life situations based on what has been taught to us or what we witness from childhood. This also includes what was taught to our parents or ancestors. Then, the concept of learning itself is highly influenced by cultural and religious norms and practices. What we instill into our brains here gets rooted deep inside us, including the definition and response to fear.
b) Natural Environment – There are certain situations in life which naturally trigger a mental and physical response. For instance someone who has never seen a cat may, at first, observe a safe distance, observe and then test for signs of danger. Scientifically, people can relate this to DNA – something that has been brought down to you by your parents or ancestors but not all historical instances have a viable genetic proof.
Mind – A non-stop machine!
Our body responds to fear arising out of a real world danger through natural reflexes. For example, our brain triggers our organs (lets say legs) to stop and then directs our senses (lets say eyes) to look at both sides before crossing the road. Similarly, when in physical danger from another person, our brain triggers all possible body movements to defend ourselves. These are real fears of a limited time span. They only arise when the mind calculates the danger (like crossing a road) and end when the protective action is complete (observing signal or looking at both sides of the road). When the mind’s job is done, it sends a signal to the body, which then calms down.
On the other hand, fear of emotional construct persist a) without a cause of an actual danger b) for a longer or indefinite period of time. Here, the mind is occupied 24/7 in a protective mode, like a guard watching your door. Without a prominent danger, it will restrict the entry and exit to your mental space. As a result, your mind is in a loop mode and triggers similar physical responses.
This prolonged looping response is termed as anxiety. Phobia is an alternate term, which is actually a form of anxiety such as fear of heights, closed spaces, spiders, flying etc. Taking the above example, someone with a fear of dating will naturally be directed by his/her brain to look away and/or physically move/hide away from members of the opposite sex. This around the clock and unreasonable use of mind never lets your body calm down. As a result, you fail to use your full human potential and cage yourself unnecessarily.
How to Overcome Fear
Recognize the Fear (See and accept what’s caging you)
When you are always fearful and the mind is always in a protective mode, you are most likely to ignore the signs. However, the physical triggers might help you consciously notice and act. For instance, just before an interview, an anxious person either sweats a lot or continuously taps the feet. Similarly, those afraid of heights / acrophobia get sweaty palms or butterflies in the stomach. When you observe such triggers, recognize and accept the fear.
Share (Open the Doors)
It won’t be a simple – I recognize it! Your mind will still try it’s best to protect you. You are likely to ignore the physical triggers even after recognizing them at first. However, be persistent. If you fail once, try opening up to another person. For instance, if you are feeling nervous going on a date, talk to your friend or roommate. Open up about what might cause this fear inside you. It could be a troubled childhood, a failed relationship in the past etc. Let it out!
This will work positively in two ways. First, it will allow you to positively release the information out of your mind to a second person rather than storing it in. Second, next time you are showing the physical triggers/signs of fear around this person but fail to acknowledge, he/she can help you realize. Hence, you are opening the doors to this caged mind.
Take It Out of Your System (It’s Time to be Free: Live to the Fullest)
You know what’s holding you back and what’s causing it. Now, it is time to overcome fear and flush it out of your mind. This requires re-training your mind.
Body & Mind Balance
a) Routine & Lifestyle – Positive results require drastic changes at the root level. If your body is already stressed out, you have to let go off anything that adds to the mental or physical stress. This includes over use of electronic gadgets, smoking, alcohol or TV time. According to a study, a 22-minute reduction in life expectancy is associated with watching 1 hour of TV each day. Similarly, one cigarette reduces your life by 11 minutes. Hence, avoiding electronics, taking 8 hours of good sleep, getting up early and eating healthy food are basic necessities.
b) Yoga – Simple pranayam and kapalbhati breathing exercises can be done anywhere. These are a good starting point when you are new to yoga. The benefits include better respiration, better sleep, improved blood flow, improved stomach disorders, better self-focus and awareness etc. to name a few.
c) Meditation – There is no better way to true awareness than meditation. It is not about controlling your mind or focusing or chanting mantras. It is about thoughtlessness. Learn how to meditate here.
With a better functioning body and mind, you are now in a much better state to take charge.
i) New Each Day – As a general rule in life try stuff that you always hesitated to or that you’ve never done before. It doesn’t necessarily have to be out of your fear closet. For instance, roller coasters, bungee jumping, dancing, going on dates, kayaking, experimenting with cooking etc. Celebrate each new failure and success for the effort and gut that you showed. Do not stop. You mind will naturally learn how to experiment and be fearless of the outcome.
ii) Trace-back – When confronted with a similar situation where mind triggers a physical reaction (such as nervousness or sweaty palms), instantly remind yourself about the root cause of this fear. Think of the conversation with your friend or room mate or the time you opened up about it. You felt good about it. You felt light. Next, think of all those things you did for the first time, things you never thought you could or would do like taming a roller coaster ride. Your potential is limitless.
iii) What Next Approach – Fear feeds on past and the unknown future. We focus so much on what lies ahead that we stop focusing on the present. The outcome of the action seems more important than the action itself. Failure in exams, getting dumped by someone, getting fired from a job..all these are unknown. Whenever fear takes over, think of what could possible happen next (good and bad) and what will you do next. Now think of next possible outcome and your next step. Keep going on until you reach out of options. This approach will make you realize three things – a) You cannot predict the future b) Time is precious and limited c) Your focus and priority is to live in the present.
I hope this combined human and spiritual approach will help you overcome fear. Real change starts from you. Time is now!