I think it would be safe to say that everyone is afraid of something. Sometimes the fear is justified and sometimes not. In this article, I want to focus on some of the fears that are not necessarily justified or amplified above and beyond that which is healthy, what it does to the body, and strategies for overcoming it.
For people such as myself living with a health condition (in my case a neurological movement disorder called dystonia, which is accompanied by pain), our fears are often magnified because we don’t know what each day holds, let alone the future, because of our unpredictable symptoms. However, this does not mean that our fears can’t be better controlled, and to be honest, everyone is living with the unpredictability of life. No one really knows what each day or the future holds for them.
As I discuss in my new book, Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges, fear interferes with nearly every area of our life. We cannot thrive when we are controlled by fear because fear stresses our immune system, clouds our thinking, and creates inflammatory biochemical responses that harm us. It also keeps us stuck in the fight, flight, freeze stress response. You can click here to read more about this topic in another blog I wrote. Learning to dismantle the fear response could be the saving grace to our mental and physical health.
I think the most important thing to first understand about fear is that it is normal and we all experience it, so we shouldn’t shame ourselves for our worries. What we do with fear/worry next is the most important step, because often when we experience a painful incident, anxiety, panic attack, or some other uncomfortable/painful situation, we tend to avoid that particular place, event, feeling, or whatever it might be. This can create anxiety in our lives, which then creates more overall fear in other areas of our lives, which then creates more overall stress that prolongs suffering.
To help me disengage the fear response, I practice breathing exercises, visualization, meditation, prayer, affirmations, and other mind calming activities to help me better sit with my fears and work through them. I also talk to my fear so I perceive it from a more rational perspective versus a reactionary one. I have since learned that my fears are more often than not a figment of my imagination, so when I am in an anxious state, I sternly remind myself that my thoughts are merely being amplified in the moment way above and beyond what is reality.
Because many people struggle with rationalizing fears that seem so real and powerful, we do a lot of over-worrying about too many things which makes it so we can’t enjoy ourselves. It is like being afraid of bridges and driving on a highway knowing a bridge is coming up in 100 miles and we worry the entire 100 miles for that momentary trip over the bridge. We miss everything along the way because we are so worried about that bridge. This is what happens in life. If we fear everything, we miss out on the richness of the many experiences all around us.
We need to practice learning to live in the moment and understand that we are only promised moments in this life. Once this moment is over, we have another moment and then another. It’s important to plan for the future, but we must live in the present. Fearing something that may or may not happen keeps stress and anxiety alive. Fear and anxiety then become habitual and we react to stressful events without even thinking, which is why certain things are called “triggers.”
Please understand that the body keeps the score and it holds memories and connections to past trauma of any kind, even if it is subconscious. Connecting with it and not being fearful of it is a very powerful way to process it and transcend it. We need to create new habits of thinking to create new habits of behavior to produce new outcomes. Practicing the art of mindfulness and self-care is invaluable in this process.
I encourage you to do something every day to help you get out of this horribly uncomfortable, helpless place. One baby step at a time, and for anyone who is in this dark place of fear, you know that a “baby step” is actually a giant leap. Take those leaps by breaking down your very big and complex problems into smaller, more manageable pieces. Releasing ourselves from fear is an unbelievably liberating experience.
If we don’t appropriately manage our fears, they will come to surface over and over in all areas of our lives. The sooner we can face whatever we are afraid of, the easier and more quickly we can exercise that fear out of our mind and body. If we allow fear to linger, this will worsen the fear and give it more power over us, which keeps us stuck in a state of chronic stress where we become immobilized, and life is too short to live like that. When you feel fear and anxiety, don’t run from it or become afraid of it. Adding fear on top of fear keeps it alive. Instead, recognize it, talk to it, breathe through it, and let it pass. Please see my book for more in depth coping techniques.