Who’s Driving The Car?
Why do we want things in life and not go after them? What is holding us back from our heart’s true desires? The answer is FEAR. Learning how to deal with this powerful emotion will help us overcome our aversion to risk and courageously pursue life. I’m going to tell you the truth about fear.
I don’t like to feel afraid. Nobody does. But we’ve all experienced the uncomfortable physical sensations of our palms sweating, heart racing in our chest, light-headedness, dry mouth, and loss of fine motor skills such as the ability to speak clearly. This is exactly what happens to some people when they speak in front of an audience which is why they will do almost anything to avoid it. Fear is a very strong emotion and when untethered, it can impair our ability to function normally. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives and we’d probably agree . . . it’s not fun.
Fear Has Its Place
However, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when we feel fearful. Our brains are specifically designed to warn us of physical threats leading to the survival of our species. Otherwise, we’d all put a red cape around our necks and jump from a cliff just to see if we can fly. Lucky us; looks like we’ll have to learn to live with a little fear if we want to stick around awhile.
Here’s a firsthand look at fear from inside the brain. The older reptilian brain is our automatic system. It’s responsible for the “fight or flight” mode that plays a critical role in our ability to avoid danger. It’s the part of our brain that monitors heart rate, respiration, alertness, and sleep. This part of our brain is compulsive and reactionary – there is no conscious thought necessary for it to function. It literally operates in the mode of “eat or be eaten”. This brain served us well in the beginning of the human race because our basic needs for survival were limited. Food, water, shelter, heat, and the ability to protect ourselves from predators covered our needs and allowed us to procreate.
Fear Is Not Our Most Rational Friend
As we evolved as a species, so did our brains. The middle brain or limbic system developed and is responsible for regulating emotional responses to others and our environment. This part of the brain provides humans with the ability to nurture children and develop relationships with others. It also harnesses our emotionally repressed memories and records our responses to past events. This is where it gets tricky – if something in our past elicits a fear response from us, this part of our brain creates and records that neuropathway; thereby creating a direct route for a similar situation to evoke the same emotional response. To break this chain reaction, we must first create a new emotional response to the event.
I will share how this works with a personal example from my life when fear from a past event triggered an even stronger reaction to a similar current event. In 2015, I suffered a tragic loss when my youngest brother suddenly died (though the circumstances were different each time, this was the fourth time I experienced this sudden loss in my family in a relatively short time frame). At age 45, I was suddenly incapacitated by fear for the first time in my life. Normally a very happy and positive person, I was now overcome by fear, anxiety, and depression. At the time, I wasn’t sure what was happening to me because this was not my normal state of being. It was one of the scariest times of my life and I wasn’t sure how to move past this hurdle. But I knew I had to do something, so I embarked on a long journey of recovery that involved many therapies including counseling, meditation, yoga, prayer, and energy healing. And I read every book I could find on neuroscience because I wanted to understand why I had been so consumed by fear.
Here’s what I learned that helped me move forward:
- Fear is a natural emotional response to environmental threats so we shouldn’t feel guilty when we experience it. Without the ability to experience fear, we wouldn’t be able to survive as a species – it’s our brain’s self-protective mode.
- Sometimes it’s rational and sometimes it’s not. Fear is our response to a “real” (almost getting hit by a car while crossing the road) or “perceived” threat (my sudden fear of death in the example above). In the first scenario, fear tells you to move out of the way so you don’t get killed. In the second scenario, fear derives from irrational thinking – you remember this event and how it turned out in the past and this memory creates a false sense of what might happen when/if the event occurs again. You may have heard the acronym for FEAR as False Evidence Appearing Real. Well I prefer to use Dixie Gillaspie’s revision, Fortunately, Everything’s All Right because perceptions can be changed. That’s when our true brain power enhances our ability to overcome irrational fears.
- Fear when properly controlled is a very powerful force that can help you perform your best. Acknowledge that you feel afraid, consciously figure out why you are afraid (so that you can reframe your perception of this event), take a few deep breaths to slow your heart rate and respiration, and think to yourself, this feeling is just my body’s way of gearing up for peak performance. Then just do it. There is nothing more elating than conquering your own fears. Here’s what Michael Hyatt has to say on this topic in his article, How To Reframe Your Fear And Let It Work For You.
- Fear is an internal barrier as it’s largely based on our perceptions. The good news is that it’s much easier to change ourselves than it is to change our circumstances. If you are feeling stuck in life, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?”. Introspection will reveal a fear that you may not even be aware of. Once you figure out what it is, start to break it down. Lay it out on the table, raw and exposed. And ask yourself, “If I do this, honestly what is the worst thing that could happen?” Fear never wins the answer to that question. In the silence, you will hear your heart’s response.
If you are not living your dreams, you are living your fears. Happiness does not reside with the latter. ~Andrea Cadelli
I am fascinated by how our brain works and the untapped potential we carry in our mental abilities. I’ve spent the last several years studying and reading books on neuroscience and how we can retrain our brains. This is important to me because, as I shared in my story, I’ve been stuck before and I want to help others who find themselves needing the courage to move forward. As a writer, I’m also interested in expanding my creativity and I know that brain training is key to unleashing this skillset.
One of the most influential books on this topic that helped me understand the specific workings of the brain and how we can bring ourselves to higher levels of consciousness is Patt Lind-Kyle’s Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in understanding how the different parts of the brain affect our emotions and behaviors. The book also provides meditation practices that help improve mental state and physical performance.
If you have other advice in dealing with fear, please share your thoughts with others in the comments.
Wishing you love, peace, and happiness!