Fear and What You can Do about It

Managing fear

by Jayaram V

Fear is the most dominant emotion of the human mind. It is also the most dominant emotion in the animal world. It is even said that most of the emotions we experience are variations of fear only since they are experienced because of the presence of absence of fear.

For example, anger and aggression may arise because of fear only. Fear is again the basis of worry and anxiety. It is part of our self-preservation instinct. Therefore, whenever we perceive threat, either real or imaginary, we experience fear.

The psychosomatic nature of fear

When we perceive threat, our bodies experience a chain of reactions to boost our energies and prepare us to either face the threat or escape from it. It is called the fight or flight response. We need energy for both and fear stimulates our bodies to generate extra energy to deal with the situation.

Both these responses are usually under the control of the autonomous nervous system, which means we cannot really control the onset of our fears except in a very limited sense. We can only control our reaction to fear and fearful situations with either fight or flight response.

When we perceive a threat, our autonomous nervous system responds promptly by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, breathing, oxygen supply to the brain, and releasing more glucose into our blood stream.

Other physical symptoms are increased sweating to cool the heat generated by the muscles, rush of adrenaline, release of extra blood platelets to facilitate clotting of the blood, release of endorphins to block any possibility of pain, and slowing down of digestion to conserve glucose. This is called the state of arousal, which usually happens in our bodies in response to fear.

The difficulty in controlling fear

Thus, fear has both physical and emotional aspects and since it is deeply connected to our survival and autonomous nervous system, it is very difficult to control and not to experience. Many people do not know this aspect of fear and blame themselves for their inability to control fear.

Since fear is a biological and physiological response to threats created by the mind and body, there is no shame in having fears or experiencing them. Actually, you should be worried, if you do not experience fear at all, because it is not only unnatural but also indicative of a deep abnormality. Fear is experienced by all. Even courageous people are not free from it. Courage is not absence of fear, but a fight response to fear.

Imaginary fears are worse

While the physical or biological aspect of fear is a common survival response to a perceived threat, the emotional aspect of fear is where individuals show a wide range of emotional responses mostly due to the internal factors. Our minds can produce fear, even without a real threat, because after we experience fear, we may keep imagining it or its consequences. In other words, our fears are psychosomatic in nature. Both the mind and the body play an important role in producing, sustaining and aggravating fear. Our bodies affect our minds and our minds affect our bodies and in the process we experience several emotions such as fear and anxiety.

As we play out the same situation mentally and perceive the threat repeatedly we continuously experience the state of arousal as fear, worry and anxiety. The situation become even more complicated if the threat is imaginary rather than real. We can deal with a real threat with either fight or flight response, but we cannot use the same strategy effectively with an imaginary threat, because as long as the imagined threat prevails, neither of the responses work. It is where one needs effective coping strategies, even the help of a professional, to shake the mind out of its delusions and see the reality.

Coping with fear

Fear manifests in us in various forms. Some common and frequent fears are, fear of death, fear of change, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of disapproval, fear of loss, fear of the unknown, fear of strangers, fear of separation, etc. Since we have now understood how fears arise and how they affect our minds and bodies, we may consider some of the following techniques to deal with them.

1. Regular exercise helps your body to handle better the stress and anxiety arising from the changes in your body in response to fearful situations. It is proven that regular exercise helps people to respond well to the physical reactions that happen in the body due to fearful situations.

2. Understand how your thinking and imagination aggravate your fears and produce negative emotions You have to separate your imaginary fears from real fears and in case of the former learn to dispute your thinking with facts and reason.

3. Learn to face your fears, especially the imaginary ones and act in the face of fears. It is the best way to break through the illusions of your mind and build confidence.

4. Know that some fear is healthy and necessary and there is no shame in feeling fear.

5. Look deep within yourself to understand how you experience fears, what triggers your fear and what habitual thought patterns you use when you experience fears. This knowledge will help you to deal with your fears with awareness and understanding.

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