If Fear is “Natural,” Doesn’t That Make It Inevitable? How Could I Control It?
Yes, it’s perfectly natural to experience fear. In fact, its presence can be good for you.
Fear is Good For You
First, fear is perfectly healthy. It’s part of normal, healthy brain function. It’s there to keep you safe. When a threat is near, fear is what alerts you, prepares you for dealing with it, and springs you into action. It activates the nervous system and calls your body into action, increasing blood flow so you can run faster or fight harder.
It can even become a pleasure. Fear triggers your brain to produce dopamine, which is why some of us love the thrill of roller-coasters or haunted houses.
So in general, fear is good for you.
Of Course, There Are Exceptions
There are two types of fear that are more imagined than real. The first relates to stimuli that are not in fact scary, but we’ve been conditioned to fear them. The second is where there are no apparent stimuli at all. This is called anticipatory anxiety. You simply get scared because you imagine what could happen.
Anticipatory anxiety is unique to humans because of our amazingly developed brains – our ability to learn, think and simply imagine something to fear. Normally, the fear stays with us until our brain receives the “all clear” message. But when the fear or anxiety is objectless (imagined), it can turn into chronic anxiety. In other words, your brain doesn’t know when to turn it off. This can be dangerous, and there are methods for controlling anticipatory anxiety.
Then of course there is phobia which is altogether different. Fears are common reactions to events or objects. “But a fear becomes a phobia when it interferes with your ability to function and maintain a consistent quality of life. If you start taking extreme measures to avoid water, spiders or people, you may have a phobia.”(1)
You Can Control It
The good news is that despite all of this, most fear can be controlled. This is because it’s simply not as automatic as you think. It’s part instinct, part learned, part taught, and part imagined. Fearing pain, for example, is key to our survival. Instinct. But fearing a certain person, place, or situation is learned based on past experiences. Other fears we are simply taught by society. And finally, as mentioned above, fear may be sparked simply by an imagined threat.
Additionally, precisely how scary something is you can control as well. This is because the more scared you feel, the scarier things will seem. So the same exact situation is truly scarier for one person vs. another, or for one mindset vs. another.
So How Do You Take Control?
How to curb or control your fears are mostly dependent you and on the activity, so there simply isn't ONE silver bullet.
The Bodhi Band program sends its members through a number of ways to take control of their fears. We'll list a few of them here.
Shifting Your Focus
Counting is a classic example. Counting during a scary experience shifts your focus away from the fear. You can either count up by ones, or do something more complex if that’s not distracting enough, like counting down by threes. Breathing consciously and/or in sync with your environment works in a similar way.
Remember that fear is physical.
The most effective way to master fear is to develop for yourself some physical actions for fear management. Think about what physical techniques you can develop when experiencing the thing that scares you that would give you more physical control over the situation. Learn the right posture. If you’re public speaking, for example, keep your feet at shoulder width with your hands relaxed and chest open. Prepare. Practice the techniques ahead of time, so they’re second nature when you need them.
Just the act of learning a physical technique and having it in the back of your mind when needed is helpful. It creates the feeling of control, which slowly over time becomes the control itself!
Face Your Fear(s)
Avoiding them only makes them scarier. So instead, face it. Of course, there is a right and wrong way to step into this, so do your research. Going too hard too fast can only make things worse.
Look for Evidence
Challenge your thoughts and beliefs around your fear. Is this thing REALLY as scary as you think it is? What evidence supports that? Ask yourself what you would say to a friend who had a similar fear.
Don't Try to Be Perfect
Often, our fear is based in our unrealistic expectations we set on ourselves. Challenge those expectations. If they're too high, that could be holding you back!
Visualize a Happy Place
In the fearful moment, close your eyes and imagine a place of safety and calm. What is it for you? A beautiful beach? Snuggled in bed with your favorite pet? Let those positive feelings soothe you and relax you.
Talk About It
Talking about your fear can do wonders. Who could you talk to? A partner, friend, or family member? If none come to mind, decide if a therapist would make sense for you.
Go Back to Basics
A good night’s sleep, a wholesome meal, or a walk are often the best cures for anxiety.
When you've finally done and conquered that dreadful, scary thing, don't forget to reward yourself! Decide ahead of time what that reward should be for you. Is it treating yourself to a massage? Having a meal out? Watching your favorite movie?
As we said, which option for controlling your fear depends on you as well as the fear and situation itself. When fear-conquering, think about which of the above methods make the most sense for you.