Being Scared, Being Courageous: How to learn about fears to un-learn fearfulness
With my teary eyes, I took a sneak peek. He was huge, dark and arrogantly confident. He put his red eyes on me, held me tight and spoke with a ghastly smile, “I am the dictator of your life.” My heart pounded, my stomach ached. I ran and ran through my barren mind. Unable to find peace, tired and torn apart, I stumbled upon a rock. Thriving in its harsh crevices was a tiny plant called “Hope”. Awestruck by its charisma, I touched the flowers of “Happiness”. Lo and behold! I felt motivated. With nerves full of courage, I confronted again the Dark Fear, looked in his red eyes and said this with a loud roar, “I am the writer of my life story.”
Do you ever go into that mode where you feel that your body is extremely alert and sensitive to the surroundings but, at the same time you feel frozen, not able to even move? Have you ever felt that your heart is beating so fast and loud that you can hear it? Well, this is what is called to be scared.
Fear is a psychological state of an organism caused by a threatening stimulus, which in turn leads to a set of physiological changes in the body evoking a pattern of adaptive behaviors to fight or avoid that threat.
When our body senses a dangerous situation, the emotional center of our brain called amygdala is activated. On one end, amygdala is connected to the prefrontal cortex that controls our decision making ability. On the other end, amygdala signals hypothalamus, brainstem and the spinal cord that regulate the homeostatic state of our body. As a result of this fear processing our memory processing and decision making abilities get altered and our bodies prepare for a fight-or flight by elevating our heart beat and blood pressure. Basically, a typical fear response primes our body to perform better under life-threatening circumstances.
The ability to be scared was given to the mankind as a gift during the course of evolution so that we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from immediate, life taking dangers. It was our cautionary device to thrive. But now, our devices have gone broke, reason being overindulgence of fear in our daily lives.
“Overindulgence!”, “How?” you would ask. It is simple, most of the fears that we deal with in our day-to-day lives are self-created and imaginary. While fear as a transient response on confrontation with a threat, is healthy and important, overindulgence by chronically worrying about what is going to happen in future causes anxiety disorders.
When I was pursuing my graduate school, I had to often present my research in the class, in conferences in front of large, learned crowd. I used to detest public speaking. I remember, for nights before my talks, I used to get nightmares that my computer is broken, I fell on the stage, I am forgetting my lines etc. I used to ruminate about this imaginary fear for days and feel sick before my talks.
The main problem is our brain cannot differentiate if it is a real or imaginary fear and inflicts the same fight or flight response to both. So, in a day if our body had been supposed to be in this fearful state for 30 min due to the real threat, it would stay in that state for days as we would add imaginary threat to it. As a result, we are overindulged in the expression of fear. This inappropriate expression of fear is harmful as it eventually begins to impair our daily functioning by inflaming our brains and making us more vulnerable to depression and addiction. Though a cautious fear of gaining weight can stop you from overeating, abnormal expression of this fear will cause eating disorders. I would say, “Fear infests your mind as malignancy and takes control of your entire Self and your life’s story.”
So, can we do something about this? Fortunately, yes.
You can learn to get rid of your unnecessary, self-made fears by doing two things. Number one, be conscious of your fears and number two, be open to yourself regarding your fears. Let me tell you some simple mental exercises to do that.
Trace the root cause of your fear. Believe me; everything we are scared of has a root cause, mostly a childhood memory. You just have to think what happened with you or in your surroundings that is forcing you to agree that you are scared of something. If you are scared of confronting crowds, it might be possible that you were bullied in your classroom during young ages. If you are scared of being bankrupt or doing poorly in business, may be at some point of time you saw that happening with someone and learnt that fear.
Consciously address each fearful thought. I call it Classify, Counteract, Re-build and Reinforce process. When you are ruminating about something, classify that fearful thought in the real-time if it is a real threat or imaginary. Counteract it by analyzing, “what are the odds that this will happen?” “Am I just thinking about this because this fear has been rooted inside my mind by some past experience?” When you deeply analyze your fearful thoughts, you assure yourself again and again that there is nothing to be scared of and this is just imaginary fear. By doing this you build new connections or new memories in your brain. When you frequently repeat this process, you reinforce those new memories. Old fearful memories can be updated with new non-fearful memories by a learning-like process. By doing this exercise, eventually you would develop confidence and courage to deal with your imaginary fears.
Re-direct and channelize your energy. I will say that our emotions are really powerful. They have raw-energy. If we channelize these energies in a constructive way after dissecting out our fears, we can do whatever we want.
I classified, counteracted, re-built, and reinforced my fear of speaking publicly by always reminding myself that there is nothing to be afraid, the odds of happening something bad are very low and I know all ins and outs of my research. After I learnt about my fearful thoughts to un-learn my deep rooted fear, I channelized my energy by reading and practicing more.
Always remember, we all have strength, strength to love purely and being loved. We all have courage to accomplish anything we want. We have the power to write our life’s story. The only thing we need is to #ConsciouslyUnlearnFear by being honest to ourselves.
So, next time when the Dark Fear haunts you, tap him in the shoulder and say, “Boo.”