Fear is just like every other emotion:
- We all experience it (no one is fearless)
- We are supposed to experience it (all emotions serve a purpose)
- It is often misunderstood
We tend to believe that fear is a bad thing. Yet fear is what kept our early ancestors alive; it kept them on high alert so that they could focus all their attention on immediate threats; for example, rival tribes, saber tooth tigers, and so forth.
When utilized correctly, fear keeps us safe. Fear ignites our survival instincts, which in turn slows down all other body systems (digestion, reproduction, metabolism, elimination) so we can fully focus on the threat at hand.
Fear blocks our clarity because escaping the disturbance becomes the only goal we think about. This is how the old part of our brain—the primitive part of it—reacts. Within milliseconds, we think, perceive and act.
Because the mind becomes fixated on the threat, we get a false sense of control where we think that the more we worry and do, that we will be able to control the outcome. When we act out of fear, no action is ever enough–so we assume more is better. When we make decisions out of fear, there’s a part of us that knows it’s not the best thing to do so we become conflicted which spirals into its own cycle of doubt.
All of which leads to more fearful thought (panic) and fearful action, both of which increase stress. High levels of stress block your clarity, slow your metabolism/digestion/elimination and weaken your immune system. To reduce that stress you must reduce fear.
Sixteenth Century Samauri swordsman Miyamoto Mushashi talked about the perceiving eye .vs the observing eye:
- The perceiving eye sees more than what is there; it sees “insurmountable obstacles” where we apply our own judgements to things we can’t control. Our perceptions tend to feed into our fear and panic in situations where it would be far better to get clear on what’s true in the immediate moment.
- The observing eye sees precisely what is there, without distractions, exaggerations and misperceptions. Don’t get it twisted. The observing eye isn’t all “positivity,” it just focuses on what is actually real and what will help. There’s threat & danger; then there’s what we add to threat & danger.
If we’re not police officers, fire fighters, or military personnel who run towards danger to protect the greater good, or if you’re not in a special population that has an inherent higher risk, most of us, most of the time, do not experience immediate or imminent threat.
As we face this tough time, you need to know that it’s okay to have fear. But we must face the fear through the lens of the observing eye where we do the objective things we know to do to keep us safe in the moment, without allowing our perceptions to build additional paranoia.
Here Are Some Questions I’ve Developed to Help Me Reduce Fear:
1. Are your current thoughts on the issue at hand making your life better or worse?
2. What exactly is your fear?
- Think of your fear as an onion with the outer layer as the most exaggerated, fearful version. Start to peel the onion, layer by layer by looking through the lens of the perceiving eye .vs the observing eye.
- Start to peel away all perceptions you’ve taken in from outside sources and built upon internally so you can move towards objective facts.
3. What if the opposite of each of those perceptions were true – what would that look like?
- What is the opposite of the overarching fear?
- Of the opinions and perceptions your mind is holding onto, what are the opposites of each of those?
- Can you say with absolute certainty that there is no truth to any of these opposing thoughts (of your perceptions)?
4. What is within your control and what is not?
- Divide a piece of paper down the middle and list off those items under either column
- Side note: I know it can be unsettling when you hear people say “focus on what you can control” but if you can embrace this idea, you will reduce fear, knowing that what will be, will be.
5. If your immediate survival needs are currently met, how can you calm your mind so that you can look closer through the lens of the observing eye?
- You are already doing it! Find info sources that are there for YOU, free of alternative motives. For example, are big news stations really benevolent and simply there to inform you? Or are they businesses with political interests whose main goal is increasing viewership and earning money through ad revenue?
- The more panic you hear and see, the more fear you allow in. That does not put you in a safer position; in fact it does the opposite.
This is not to say to avoid the news altogether. Local news delivers information that you should know about your community. Just don’t obsess over the news cycle and know that headlines are created to capture your attention.
The CDC is a non-biased source of information:
- Meditation: Sit comfortably somewhere without noise, set a quiet timer and focus on your breath. As your mind wanders, keep shifting back to your breath. Know that there is no bad meditation. For beginners, I recommended guided meditation through apps like Calm or INSIGHT timer.
- Journal – what do you observe yourself thinking? When you write out your thoughts, you’ll feel immediately better and reduce fear.
- MOVE! One of the best ways to clear your mind, reduce fear and stress, and feel better is through Fitness & Yoga!
- Read & recite the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr: Whether you are religious or not, there is great wisdom in these words:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
- Listen to calming music that operates at a higher vibration: Here’s an example: listen without judgement and allow the music to envelop you.
And remember, This too shall pass.
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