Why is fear so powerful and convincing? When we see or hear something that pushes our primal fears; of not having enough shelter, food, or good health, our fear center takes us over and we become powerless.
Suddenly we start to listen once again to that false voice of self-criticism inside us. The ones that tells us we’re not enough; not smart enough, not successful enough, not dedicated enough, just not enough
Our fear can be over anything at all; fear we are not worthy of love, fear that we will never achieve our dreams, fear of not enough money, or fear of dying. Even when these fears are totally false, still we can fall victim to them.
I remember when I was around 26 and I started thinking about death. This lead to an irrational fear – not of dying, but of suffering. Suddenly I started imaging all the potential ways I could be being kidnapped, tortured, beaten or worse. These worries would pop up when I was walking to the car alone, in the dark of night, or even in a crowded store with too many strangers.
But most of this fear is irrational. It comes from our “old brain,” the one that said “Run before you’re trampled to death!” and “Look out for that snake!” We don’t need these adrenaline-filled warnings anymore, yet our bodies are still primed to produce them.
Too much fear rewires the brain. When we worry too much, our brains slips into a pattern, like a groove on a record, that’s hard to break out of. And since we are often surrounded by bad news – murders, disasters, illness and problems abound in the nightly news, it’s easy to believe the world is a scary place.
So what is the opposite of fear? Joy! Happiness, fun, laughter and love. But how do we break away from fear and into the bright light of smiles and peace? There is no easy answer, but here are a few ideas that seem to work best for me:
1. Distraction. One great way to get rid of fear is to distract your mind with another activity. It could be doing the dishes, making dinner, solving a puzzle or walking the dog. You could listen to some music, watch TV, or read a book. Often just taking your mind off your worries for a while will help you see them in a more realistic light and this will banish the baseless fears easily.
2. More fear. While this may sound strange, it works for me. For instance, I love to watch horror movies, read scary books, or even try something new like white-water rafting that I am somewhat afraid of. The over-the-top fears in the horror movies help to give perspective to my own fears – real or imagined. Doing something I am afraid of, like navigating a rushing river in just a raft full of air builds confidence, and that too helps get rid of fears of being unworthy or no good.
3. Building happiness skills. This one is harder and not effective in the short run, but provides greater benefits over the long haul. Building happiness skills, like gratitude, optimism, stress relievers and other techniques help me to find the good things in my life and build on them. Finding new ways to laugh, recognizing blessings I have overlooked, like having good health or reliable transportation help me to relax and feel more secure about my life.
4. Attack them. Sometimes the only way to get rid of fear is to attack it head-on. Since much of what we fear will never come to pass, this is often an effective technique. Take a piece of paper, and write down what is bothering you. Then list 5 steps you can take to do something about it. Even if you can not start them right away, simply having a plan can bring peace of mind. Seeing things in black and white also takes away the power of our imagination, and we find that we are well prepared to solve our own problems.
5. Get reinforcements. Fear does not survive well in groups. It thrives in loneliness and isolation. When fear is overtaking you, get help. It can be friends, family, a counselor, or a support group. It could even be a blog where you give the help to others that you thought you needed yourself. Other people can find the flaws in fear’s logic and blow a hole through it so big that it can’t survive.