We’ve all experienced it. The physical symptoms of fear: pounding heart, shaking, tightness in your throat and chest, sweating, butterflies, dry mouth, etc. Researchers from the US National Institute of Mental Health say that 19 million people in the United States alone suffer from mental illnesses that involve irrational fear responses. Fear is powerful and it shuts down our brains. It affects us both mentally and physically and affects our body’s physiology as well as the chemical balance of the brain. It is the most significant and destructive emotion we can experience.
Elements of fear exist all around us on a daily basis. The newspapers, the news, TV, movies. It's everywhere. And it's the primary reason for much of the negativity we experience such as war, crime, racism, anger, etc.
A 2005 Gallup Poll (a company that regularly conducts public opinion polls in the United States and more than 140 countries around the world) showed the 10 most common fears of teenagers in the United States:
1. Terrorist attacks
8. Being alone
9. The future
10. Nuclear war
The other common fears are public speaking, dentists, pain, cancer and snakes.
Fear is a chain reaction in the brain. It is triggered with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause all the symptoms of fear that we experience. This is known as the “fight or flight” response. The stimulus could be: having to take the last step off the edge of a platform, an unexpected sound, a snake, a gun pointed at you, an audience waiting for you to give a speech and the list goes on. That stimulus creates feelings that may cause a strong urge to escape the situation which is a result of our innate fight or flight response. Our body initiating the fight or flight response is critical to our survival. It protects us and acts as an early warning signal. In all animals (that includes us humans) fear exists to promote survival. If we didn’t experience fear, we wouldn't survive for very long. We'd do all sorts of dangerous things…pet dangerous animals, walk into traffic, not protect ourselves if being threatened, step off of rooftops and carelessly enter harmful situations.
But fear can also be exciting, which is why people love thrill seeking adventures like roller coasters, bungee jumping, Zip Trekking, or even watching scary movies.
However, the down side of fear is that many people will create their lives based on their fears. Most people have been socially conditioned to believe that they should only do what they feel they “can” do without failing, or what they have been told they “can” do, or what they have already successfully done before. These self-limiting beliefs will prevent people from stepping outside of their comfort zone, taking action and living their most fulfilling life.
Fear also causes people to procrastinate. How many times have you put off something until “tomorrow?” The only way we can consistently move forward in life is to consistently take action. It’s the action that drives the fear away. In choosing not to take action, not only does it accommodate the fear, but it actually creates more of it and out of a fear of failure you will find a “good reason” to not take action and procrastinate instead.
Fear is an emotion that is learned and is a conditioned response. We learn it either through our own experiences or from other people. For example, someone who was bitten by a dog as a child might have a lifelong fear of dogs if not ever facing and overcoming that fear that is stored in the amygdala (a very small part of our brain that determines possible threats and stores fear memories) Or you may have a parent who has a fear of flying which might result in your own “supposed” fear of flying (one that I experienced growing up) Many children will adopt the fears of their parents or of people of influence in their lives. We commonly see this in politics where fear is instilled in people in an effort to gain influence and power. A perfect example of that is at the Gallup poll where 3 of the top 10 fears are related to war.
Being confident is not about having no fear. Every single person has fears of one kind or another, but it is having the courage to face the fear and take action regardless. Everyone in the world, even the most confident person you can think of, all experience fear. It is part of anyone’s life, if that person is experiencing new things and growing.
You are a result of what you do repeatedly. So if you want to become a dancer, and repeatedly train and think about dancing every day you will become a good dancer. If you want to become an interior designer and repeatedly train and think about interior design every day you will become a good interior designer.
If you want to be happy and repeatedly think about being happy every day you will become happy.
If you repeatedly think about your fears, you will be a fearful and insecure person.
The reality is that most people have trained themselves into their negative thoughts, behaviors and habits.
Their thoughts, behaviors and habits have been practiced for so long that the person is often unaware that they have a problem with fear. It becomes their practiced behavior for dealing with any challenge.
Experiencing fear from time to time is totally normal but when it prevents us from taking healthy risks or if it creates health problems such as anxiety, panic attacks and high blood pressure, it can become physically and emotionally debilitating.
Here are some tips to help you manage your fears:
- Determine exactly what you're afraid of and the cause of the fear and put it into context with facts.
- Set small, achievable goals to face your fears.
- When your physical safety is not in danger, ask yourself, “Am I physically safe here?” If not, take the risk!
- Create fear-extinction memories to override the fear with the new positive memory.
- Find someone who is not afraid of what you fear and spend time with that person.
- Eliminate expectations of what you think “should” happen.
- Ask yourself: “How could I prepare myself better for the next time?”
- Take responsibility for your actions and your IN-ACTIONS
By Suzanne Fetting
If you would like to overcome your fears and realize your full potential, and become the confident you, contact me today!