Fear. Of all the emotions one can experience, this is the most unpleasant. While it is useful at times, in our modern world it more often stops us from taking needed actions rather than aiding us in survival.
The good news is that fear can be understood and controlled to a great extent. By acknowledging that we have fear, what it is, and learning what can be done about it, we can master it, rather than it’s servant.
What is fear?
Let’s begin with a brief description of what fear actually is. Fear is a primitive chemical response that releases adrenaline, creates muscular tension and slows higher level thought processes. The design of fear seems to lead to two main physical functions, a short burst of speed in running or a paralysis that freezes our muscle function.
In the wild, these are good responses, allowing us to run from powerful threats or freeze in place so as to not be noticed by predators.
But what happens when the threat you face is not a wild animal, but rather a crowd of coworkers you have to give a speech to? Running away won’t get the job done and freezing in place won’t hide you from these crafty and attentive folk! No, what is needed in that case is to deal with and overcome your fear.
How to Control Fear
- Acknowledge that fear exists: Many people think that they can control fear by ignoring it or pretending that it does not exist. In practice though, this type of thinking tends to set one up for a sudden onset of fear with no real plan to address it! This leads to freezing, or to making poor decisions, far more often than it helps anyone cope.
- Control your breathing: Taking slow deep breaths can help your body believe that it is not experiencing a fear response. It will also aid in relaxation.
- Relax: For fear to be experienced as such, you have to have a high level of muscular tension. Learning to relax can totally short circuit this emotion! It pays to practice relaxing as often as possible, at least once a day.
- Control your thoughts: Meditation, especial Zen and “empty mind” meditations are of great help in controlling fear. If you can stop thinking about the object of your fear, you will stop being afraid. Again, daily practice can help a lot with this, so if you have not done so, consider starting a meditation practice.
- Start early: This is likely the most important skill you can develop. If you address things before a full fear response is in play, it will be much easier to deal with! A little meditation or muscular relaxation will do wonders if used early enough, even if your skills in these things are not yet at a very high level.
- Practice: Spend a few minutes a day mentally addressing fearful topics as vividly as you can. As you feel yourself tensing, or feel butterflies in your stomach, take a moment to clear your mind and relax.
By repeating this daily, you will train yourself to respond to these situations in a non-fearful manner. What is more, if you practice regularly, you will train yourself to respond to all fear inducing situations in a relaxed and focused manner.
It is worth the time and effort to learn to control your personal fears. More than anything else you can learn, this one thing will increase your confidence and lead you to a happier life!