Fear is a fact of life. The great gifts of humanity were created trying to overcome fear. Civilization was built on the simple idea of “How can I make my family a little safer so they can survive?” While the methods of that struggle have changed, the mechanics are the same.
Today, we are bombarded with a global menu of scary stuff. Fear is a natural response to legitimate danger. Running from a burning building is a very healthy thing to do. Wearing a seat belt is another example.
Fear, when applied to our greatest attributes makes them toxic. Fear weaponizes all that is right and good in the world. Here are some examples.
“Persistence + Fear = Stubbornness”
“Pride + Fear = Arrogance”
“Love + Fear = Obsession”
“Curiosity + Fear = Paranoia”
“Kindness + Fear = Manipulation”
“Ambition + Fear = Gluttony”
“Intelligence + Fear = Pretentiousness”
“Meditation + Fear = Resentment”
“Skepticism + Fear = Denial”
“Piety + Fear = Self-righteousness”
Or natural fear of the unknown has been exploited for most political, business, and entertainment ends. The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous best describes: “It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.”
Here is the thing, being afraid of stuff, however petty, is what makes us human. One of the great things about being human is our history of transcending that animal fear into something beautiful. Every religion or spiritual practice basically sprung from a desire to rise above our base nature of fight or flight.
Transcending fear is not the same thing as eliminating it.
So, how do we overcome fear? If you are truly being overwhelmed by anxiety and panic attacks, avail yourself of professional, medical help. Life isn't a contest to see who can suffer the most pain. If your days and nights are consumed by fear, anxiety, and panic, it doesn't need to be that way and there is help.
Here is what helps me:
Talking about it. I rat myself out. Fear is a virus with an elegant survival mechanism contingent on silence. I have people in my life who I practice telling the truth to on a regular basis.
Write it out. I have found the most effective way of eliminating fearful things is to put pen to paper and write them out as well as I can. Make a list. It might look like this:
- I'm afraid of working on my resume.
- I'm afraid that when I apply for this job, I won't be enough and someone more qualified will get the job.
- I'm scared of what strangers think of me.
- I'm afraid of change.
- I'm afraid all the work I have done will be for nothing because I don't have the right connections.
- I'm afraid I'll get the job and then lose the job once they realize their mistake.
Notice most of all these fears are tied to external things. I'm projecting fear on to other people in order to avoid the potential pain of being a responsible adult. When I write out my fears, I can see them for what they are, and move through them. It is the simplest of actions with the greatest result.
Exercise. Just going for a walk really does help. It's not a cure-all but when your body is pumping itself full of adrenaline, use it.
Peaceful projects. Find an activity that you can get lost in for a while. It could be a jigsaw puzzle, cooking, drawing, playing a sport, music, whatever.
Make peace. We live our lives in relationships and no one does them perfectly. If there are people in your life who you have unfinished business with, do what you can to make that right. The magical words that help heal:
- "I was wrong"
- "I'm sorry."
- "What do you think?"
- "How can I help."
A caveat to the above suggestion: ask disinterested parties for help in figuring out your side of a broken or bent relationships. Often we can make things worse when trying to fix things for the sake of our own comfort.
It has been my personal experience that when I "walk through" my fears, amazing things happen. I am quite surprised by the results because they are, in fact, beyond my wildest dreams. I have pretty wild dreams.