Researching Fear

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Do you know how hard it is to talk about fear? It’s like people have a barrier up that says “keep out.” But keeping fear hidden isn’t healthy … it only festers affecting other areas of your life.  You are not weak if you admit to fear. You are simply aware and courageous. Everyone has fear … well almost everyone.  There is a person known as S.M. who had bilateral damage to a brain area know as the amygdala who exhibited a lack of fear. But you know what, S.M. also was the victim of violent crime because she couldn’t read danger. Fear has a purpose … to keep us safe.

Did you know you were born with two innate fears? The fear of loud sounds and the fear of falling. It’s no wonder we jump when a car backfires or we get anxious when we hear thunder. It’s no wonder people are wary of skydiving or mountain climbing. Yes, you can overcome these fears with self-talk and skills training but they are always under the surface, and will be more prevalent under stress.

Did you know there are survival needs and related fears? We need air to survive and this can underlie the fear of drowning or being buried alive. We need food and water to survive and this can lead to overeating or hoarding food. We need body protection (our skin is the first protection, clothing the second, and shelter the third) and this can lead to fears of contamination, fears of spiders or snakes or animals (bites or stings breaking the skin barrier), having a closet too full of clothes, or even being afraid of losing your house.  We need body movement and this can lead to the fear of losing our freedom, the fear of being in circumstances beyond our control and claustrophobia … the fear of tight spaces. And we need sleep but fear creeps in when nightmares reveal our subconscious angst, or with people who have “sleep dread,” or those who dread not being able to get to sleep, or getting enough sleep (common with people with sleep apnea).

And then there are three main psychological fears … physical, mental, and social. Physical is relate to the fear of ceasing to be, the fear of death, and the fear of being unknown. Mental is the fear of failure, the fear of humiliation, the fear of the loss of personal integrity. Social is the fear of abandonment, the fear of rejection, the fear of not being wanted or valued.

All of these fears trigger the amygdala and that initiates the stress fight-flight response. You can train to over-ride the stress response and down regulate the amygdala. The NAVY SEALS have a well-known four-step method. Step one is to anchor yourself by thinking of someone or something or a pet that your deeply care about, to see yourself in the future with that anchor. Step two is to use visualization to mentally prepare for all types of fear scenarios. Step three is to use positive affirmations to counteract negative self-talk. And Step four is to practice deep relaxation breathing.

What fears do you recognize? Have you ever considered that training can help you handle fear better? Would you be willing to give it a try? Could you? When?

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