I see fear as one of the greatest challenges facing humans in this embodied existence. Some say that the whole point of embodiment is to experience the dance of love and fear, and that the point of soul growth for a human is when they can bring themselves to choose love over fear. I know this to be true in my own life.
As humans we have the potential to bring reflective, heart centered mind functions to bear on situations. However, those functions come on-line as a result of conscious choice. Our default reactions to situations come from our mammalian brain, structured to promote survival by reacting quickly to situations of perceived or actual threat.
Bad enough that we are wired to look for threat which primes us to see it where it is not, but that there is enough real threat to keep us all justifiably nervous. Trying to push through fear may not be what we need. Checking our reality, respecting our limits, and knowing the difference between limits and avoidance is important.
What can we to keep fear from taking over? Here are some things that I have found to be helpful in my own life and with clients:
- Just knowing that our mammalian minds are wired for fear, for recognition of danger cues and to trigger mental/ emotional/physical responses, can be enough to help us step back from fear and check our reality before plunging into a fear response.
- Bringing in acceptance and humor, and keeping out judgment, can help us to deal with fear more quickly and in a healthy way.
- Having a multitude of ways to help ones nervous systems reset when it has been activated into a fear response is very helpful, e.g. bringing ones focus of awareness to what’s going on here and now, breathing, making conscious connection to the earth, focusing on a physical activity, focusing attention on my senses: using vision, hearing, touch to stimulate here and now attention.
- Holding a touchstone, something that anchors what one wants to remember about fear, and that focuses sensory attention here and now as one feels its smoothness, its contours, its weight, looks at its color, patterns, marks. I always have a pink rose quartz heart around. It acts as a touchstone and reminds me to connect with my heart.
- Inviting in a protective power animal.
- Doing a re-setting practice such as sitting quietly with one hand on your heart and the other hand on your belly below the belly button. Begin with breathing quietly and listening for your pulse, noticing where and how in your body you can feel it. When you have that, bring your attention to the other hand on your belly. This area is connected to your adrenals which shoot chemicals into your bloodstream when fear is activated. Many of us live with chronic adrenal activation. Talk to them. Let them know that there is no threat in this moment and that they can, like a scared cat up a tree, come down, relax, and rest..
- Do relaxation breath (Herbert Benson). Breathe slowly and deeply and on the out breathe say something reassuring to yourself, e. g. “I am safe now,” or, “I can deal with this.”
- Practice confronting manageable fear-provoking situations to build skill and the confidence that comes with that.
I think the point is that for many people fear is our default response. It is a well oiled response that comes by itself without thinking. What happens next for many of us is an automatic response to avoid fear by responding to unconscious, habitual impulses to distract or soothe ourselves. We all know our preferred ways of avoiding the discomfort of fear. Generalized anxiety is the experience of fear without awareness of where it started or what it is about. Phobias are ways we have learned to avoid anxiety. Panic is runaway fear. To reduce or deal with any of these fear responses requires conscious effort to do something different. That requires us step out of our mammalian brain and into the more recently evolved higher reasoning brain, to stop and orient, and engage in a practice that grounds, calms, reassures, re-sets our nervous system.
Finally, love and connection are truly the antidote to fear. The trouble is that the ability to connect and feel connection is activated differently than fear in our nervous system. One might say we have several nervous systems and when the nervous system that responds to perception of threat fuels fight and flight is on, the nervous system that supports connection is shut down. When in fear, connection is difficult. But if we can bring ourselves to reach out, to our own heart, to our love of another, to an other or others who share our concerns or who might understand, in that act we re-set the fear response. “When we are in the grips of fear we close down and can’t be compassionate or generous. To love others we first have to be loving and gentle with ourselves….to accept ourselves, including our suffering and happiness at the same time, and then be able to wish other well.” (Thich Nhat Hanh – Fear, essential wisdom for getting through the storm.)
May you be well, and happy, and free from fear.
Wendy Ball LMHC has a counseling and shamanic energy healing practice in Albany NY. You can reach her at phone: 518-813-8524, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.