What is Fear?
And Five Ways to Overcome It
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
What is Fear?
Fear is a feeling of uneasiness, dread, or apprehension.
So why would we need this if it causes us to feel uncomfortable and makes us afraid or anxious?
Well, scientists have found that fear evolved from an adaptive trait during our early days as humans because fear can protect us from danger. The feeling of fear comes from the 'fight-or-flight' response in which your body activates itself into protecting you from harm by either running away or fighting back. This helps give humans an evolutionary advantage over other animals because it gives them a chance to flee when they come across predators while animals like lizards cannot because they stay motionless until the threat goes away, leaving them helpless.
Scientists believe that wolves were one of the first animals that showed signs of fear. The wolf would give out a warning howl to indicate that they are fearful of something. By doing this, the pack would stay close together for protection and flee to safety if necessary ( source: http://www.wolfsanctuarysewardiowa.com/fearful-wolves).
When humans were faced with these predators their fight or flight response would activate itself because it was an evolutionary advantage to do so; you either fought back against the predator or ran away from them to keep yourself safe until you could escape (source: http://www.nwcreation.net/?id=192&page=3).
Fear helped early humans to survive by alerting them about dangers that might be present, which would then cause the body to react as if there were a threat. We have an innate desire to survive, so we should be alarmed by this response and run away from danger before it kills us.
The fear response our ancient ancestors developed for survival is still alive, ready and primed for action in each and every one of us. However, rather than being afraid of the potentially hidden predator, we have become frightened by so many other things in our environment.
Fear can cause panic or a feeling of terror which can result in irrational thoughts and behaviours that may not help protect you from harm at all. This is why sometimes people panic during emergency situations such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters. The fear felt during these traumatic events causes your body to activate your 'fight-flight-or freeze' reflex without thinking about what might actually happen
There are other types of fear other than the innate 'fight-flight-freeze' response. The kind of fear experienced in social interactions is called "social anxiety." Social anxiety is when an individual fears judgment or evaluation from others, which usually results in extreme discomfort and possible embarrassment for them.
A phobia is an intense, irrational fear of or aversion to something. When your phobia isn't treated, it can interfere with your daily life. Phobias are usually classified into three types- Specific (or Simple), Social and Agoraphobia.
Specific (often called simple) phobias involve fears of specific things or situations- like snakes, heights, illness etc.
Those who suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) often develop social phobias which include the fear of public speaking, criticism or meeting new people. Sufferers may also avoid crowded spaces like malls or movie theatres because they find the experience too uncomfortable. The last type of phobia is agoraphobia which involves a fear of open spaces and/or crowded places from which it may be difficult to easily escape.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
What causes Phobias?
A large number of our fears are learned, and thus can also be unlearned.
A number of people with a phobia actually got them from their parents. Sometimes what children learn during childhood can become part of their minds forever. Although, if someone were to "snap out" of their fear, this would not mean that they never had the fear in the first place.
For example, someone who has a fear of stepping on cracks in the sidewalk and manages to not step on them one day might think that they've "snapped out" of their pavement-crack phobia so it is no longer part of them anymore.
However, this isn't usually how it works because phobias can stay with people for years and even decades after the first time they develop, in the same way as asthma patients who often experience shortness of breath for many years after their first asthma attack. The same can be said about those suffering from other types of anxiety disorders such as PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) which develops after something very traumatic or terrifying happens to someone and can last for many years though treatment may help reduce their symptoms and make them feel better. In essence, people learn to manage their phobic responses - their thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
5 Ways To Overcome Your Fears
Fear is known as one of the seven universal emotions experienced by humans. Fear is an emotion that presents itself in response to a threat of harm, whether physical, emotional, or psychological, and whether that threat is real or imagined.
Typically fear is viewed as a negative emotion, though in many instances it serves the vital purpose of activating us so we can cope with potential danger. In times of crisis and uncertainty, fear can absolutely dominate one’s thoughts and emotions. Thus, learning how to manage and overcome fear is a vital skill to help people navigate through life.
Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques are forms of stress management that work to decrease the effects of stress on the mind and body. This can be especially useful in situations where anxiety and panic can override and overwhelm.
When practised these techniques can improve mood, reduce stress hormones, slow breathing, decrease heart rate, and reduce frustration, all of which can be associated with fear. Relaxation techniques can include things such as yoga, massage, aromatherapy, music, and art among others.
Ask for Help: One of the best ways to overcome fear is to seek help. When we are experiencing a fear-inducing situation it can be tempting to isolate ourselves because of shame or concern for ourselves or others.
But whether it is helping to cope with the fear or helping actually conquer the fear, reaching out to others to get support ensures that fear doesn’t get the best of you and that it does not cause you to cave under the stress or make poor decisions. Others can provide the emotional support needed to help us process our feelings and develop coping methods so we can remain strong and overcome fear.
Visualization: Visualization is a process of mind mapping or imaging that can be very useful when it comes to dealing with fear. When faced with a situation or stimulus that causes fear, visualizing the steps you can take to overcome the situation or tackle the stimulus creates a type of muscle memory in the brain.
Then, by the time you actually get ready to do the action your brain is more likely to follow the pre-ordained steps, which eliminates the fear of the unknown and ensures greater chances of success.
Meditation: Meditation is the practice of focusing on a specific thing (breathing, body sensation, or object) as a means of developing self-awareness, inducing calm, and increasing attention. Meditation can be used to combat fear by intentionally choosing to focus on something other than the trigger causing the fear and regularly engaging in the practice as a means of redirecting and gaining control of your thoughts. Through meditation, you can manage and calm your fears and thus manage distressing situations.
Affirmations: An affirmation is a phrase or sentence designed to influence the conscious and subconscious mind. The ultimate effect of this is a change to our thought processes, habits, environments, behaviours, and actions as a result. When faced with fear the goal should be to speak affirmations that encourage, uplift, and pivot from the ‘scary’ trigger, thereby reinforcing positive thoughts and positivity directly combatting the fear.
It is possible to overcome fear, rather than allowing it to get the best of you. When you enact intentional methods of coping, you can alter your response to fear and navigate life with more ease and simplicity.
If this article has touched a nerve with you and you’d like to talk about this further please do not hesitate to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website www.dralanjones.com
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