Fear is one of the most powerful emotions humans are capable of feeling. After all, it is fear that keeps us away from potential “threats”. Neuroscientists have been researching the human brain for centuries now, yet we have only scratched the surface of the labyrinth of our minds.
Fear can be experienced on a large spectrum. We are startled even by the slightest “threats”, be it forgetting our phones at our homes or trying to fall asleep after watching a horror movie. Fear takes over our minds and bodies in nanoseconds, making us anxious and defensive almost instantly.
Psychology suggests that fear is a common reason for failure, incompetence, lack of self-confidence, and addiction. Fear is not the same to all and different people have different definitions of fear. Fear is like any other disease. It can either come and pass or become chronic over time, if not dealt with in a healthy manner.
In many cases, fear takes over our lives and adversely starts affecting our appetite, sleep, focus, and overall mental health. It can go so far as to stop us from doing and achieving things we are very much capable of. Fortunately, there are a few cognitive methods you can practice overcoming fear.
Science Behind Fear
Our fear comes from the brain. When we experience something threatening, the hypothalamus (a part of the brain) reacts to it by releasing a bunch of chemicals to the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for releasing the ‘stress hormone’ like adrenaline and sometimes mixed with dopamine.
This hormone increases the level of tension and alertness. Sometimes, when the fear is worse, the adrenal-cortical system sends these hormones to different parts of your body, making you feel stiff and frozen at the moment. The heart rate and blood pressure suddenly increase, your pupils remarkably dilate and the immune system, and digestion system switch off, to allow more energy to go to the brain for reacting.
That is why you might have heard the phrase “I froze and couldn’t react in time”. The torment that we experience when our brains go through this process makes it difficult to focus on small tasks. This is called the fight-or-flight response. If we look at our history, we will get to know that humans were not always at the top of the food chain.
There have been plenty of predators out there responsible for the development of this response in our brains. In spite of evolving to a decent position in the food chain, we still have plenty of threats in the world. So, it is high time that we should face our fears. Here are a few methods to conquer fear:
1. Understand your fear and welcome it
Fear keeps us safe; it is a self-defense mechanism of our brains to shield us from physical and mental hurt. Though it is a safety reflex it is not much of an asset. It only stops us from moving forward in life. Fear is also conditioned, there are plenty of childhood experiences that might have instilled an unknown fear in you today, that you are not even aware of.
Understanding fear is the first step to overcome it. Try to ask yourself some simple questions when you are feeling anxious, as to what you are feeling at that moment, why the situation scares you, etc. Once you understand how banal your fear is, you will be able to take better action in tackling it. Welcome fear with open arms, because at the end of the day, you will learn something new about yourself, learning how to deal with fear.
2. Build self-awareness
Educate yourself and get to know yourself better. Self-awareness takes you on a very confusing yet detailed journey of who you are as a person and how your mindset works. Once you analyze your mistakes, setbacks, and failures, you will have a better idea of what stops you and what stops you from taking the right action. Once you are well aware of this trait, with a little help, you can easily face your fears.
3. Be patient and practice being rational
Overcoming fear is not a simple task. It takes years of patience and practice. There is cognitive behavior therapy that has been doing wonders for people. To tackle our fears is to tackle the biggest hurdle in our lives. It is, after all, the fear of death that keeps us alive.
Try to notice patterns in your behavior when you feel anxious about or scared of something. As soon as you catch yourself in a spiral, think rationally for a moment. What is the worst that can happen if you overcome your fear right now? What are the potential losses you might face and what are you going to gain from the experience? Rationality is very rare and is indeed a gift in today’s time. However, humans are very much capable of taking calculated measures and succeeding by just being a little rational.
4. Imagine already succeeding
Our mental mapping of a situation motivates us to move further and take proper action in that direction. It makes us follow a streamlined path of discipline. Athletes visualize successfully completing a painstaking task a million times before actually starting the process. This practice prepares your mind for the obstacle and makes you more at ease with the situation.
5. Get some professional help
Overcoming fear is a stressful and frustrating task. Without the right knowledge and guidance, you are more likely to get overwhelmed by everything. A good option here is always to get professional help. Try finding a mentor or a counselor to guide you through the fear, and stress of dealing with it.
There are plenty of ways to handle fear. Some philosophers call fear an illusion, while some persuade you to be fearful. However, overcoming your fear is one of the bravest things you can do. Facing and tackling our fears makes us stronger, sharper, and more confident. It rewires our brains to focus on better things. As Franklin D. Roosevelt put, courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.