Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Dealing with Fear

Are you ever afraid?

I would be very surprised if anyone answered "no" to this question!  Apart from anything else, there is a purpose for fear.  It would not be very sensible to try to eliminate it.

The purpose of fear is survival, of course!  It is sometimes known as the "fight or flight response".  Fear is the natural reaction to dangerous situations.  It prepares you to remove the danger - either by confronting it to get rid of it (fight), or to remove yourself from the dangerous situation (flight).  In modern civilized society fear is much less needed than it was when man was a hunter-gatherer.  There are far fewer life-threatening situations which require you to fight or run away.  There are still many situations where you need to take action to prevent unpleasant consequences, but in most cases the fight or flight response is inappropriate.

What is the correct response to fear?  First, you should check what is causing the fear.  Second, you should decide how you should react to that fear.  Third, you should decide whether you literally need to fight or run, or whether a different response is required.  If you do need literally to fight or run, then leave the fear unchecked to allow you to have the necessary increase in strength and speed.  Don't let it get so strong that it paralyzes you, like a rabbit in the car headlights, but allow it to do its physiological job.  If you don't need to fight or run, then you may either "sublimate" the fear, or create a state change to remove it.

Here is an example where you may actually need the fear for its original purpose:

You are in the jungle and a lion suddenly appears.  Unless you are a very unusual person, at this point you will become very afraid.  My understanding is that you should not run in this situation, as that will encourage the lion to run after and attack you - and believe me when I tell you a lion can run rather faster than you!  My research tells me that a hunting lion can reach speeds of 50 mph or more, and I am quite sure this would be too fast for you!  So you shouldn't use the "flight" reaction.  Instead, use the "fight" response.  Make yourself appear threatening to the lion.  You could act this without the fear there to stimulate you, but it would not be anywhere near as effective as it will be if you use the physiological change to indicate you are ready to fight.  Raise your hands and yell at the lion!  Then walk away slowly, not running, whilst maintaining that threatening attitude.  In most cases, this strategy is likely to work and you may well get away completely unscathed.  But if the lion continues to attack, use that fear to push you right into fight mode.  Now you are not pretending you are going to fight - you actually are fighting.  Punch the lion in the face, aiming at its eyes if possible.  Without a massive flow of adrenalin into your system, your attack on the lion would no doubt be a very miserable attempt.  But allow the adrenalin to fulfil its purpose and you will be able to punch hard, causing quite a lot of damage.  In many cases that has been enough for the lion to decide this prey is too much trouble and to slink away.

A good example of sublimating fear is the way many actors use stage fright to give better performances.  They express that fear through the energy, emotions and passion they need to put into their performance.  But some great performers have been unable to sublimate their fear in this way, and the result has been catastrophic.  Barbra Streisand had a 27 year hiatus in her singing career, caused by severe stage fright.

If you find you have just the "right" amount of fear for the situation you are in, then don't try to do anything to remove it.  The negative emotion is fulfilling its purpose.  Don't let it paralyse you.  Instead, begin immediately to use it to improve your ability to run or to fight.  As in the above "lion" example.

But if fear is inappropriate for the situation you are in, which most of the time will be the case, you need a state change to remove that fear.  This is not the same as the way I have outlined in other articles for removing worry.  A good way to remove worry is to think logically about the situation you are in, recognize that worry is not going to change it, and then move on.  But fear tends to be an instantaneous response, and usually requires something much faster acting than logical thinking.  Hence my suggestion of a state change.

A good way to create a state change is to adopt a different body posture.  Posture and emotions are inextricably linked.  When you are feeling a powerful emotion you will find your body adopts a particular posture that fits the emotion.  But also, if you adopt a posture normally associated with a particular emotion you will find it creates that emotion.  It works both ways.  So think of a very different, positive emotion and try to adopt the posture that fits with that emotion.  Ideally you should prepare a set of postures in advance.  Work on creating a posture for joy, one for high energy, one for a relaxed state, one for inspiration, one for awe, etc.  Then work on creating just a small body movement that links to the full posture for the positive emotion.

This is, as you will realize, a long term project, and one that goes far beyond simply countering fear.  You can use it to counter any negative emotion.  If you have done a lot of work on this, then by all means create an appropriate state change by using one of the "positive postures" you have worked on.

But if you have not yet reached the stage where you have a portfolio of postures you can readily adopt, go for "high energy".  This is something you will already have experienced if you have been to any of the programs run by someone like Tony Robbins or T Harv Eker.  If you have not been to one of those programs you can still easily do this.  Stand up straight, as quickly as you can.  Jump up and down, if possible thinking about something that makes you feel really good.  Wave your arms in the air.  Imagine you can hear some really loud, pumping music, and pump your arms up and down in time to that music.  It will simply not be possible for you to maintain a state of paralyzing fear while you are doing this!  The adrenalin may continue pumping, but it will definitely be linked more to "fight" than "flight".  Of course, you may be in a situation where you cannot jump up and down, but try to do as much of this routine as you can without totally embarrassing yourself in that situation - maybe jumping to your feet and punching one arm into the air will be enough.  When you feel really energized, then try another state change for relaxation, peace, and happiness. Sit down, without slumping (that is very important), close your eyes, and recall an event where you were really happy.  At the same time smile broadly.  Really imagine yourself there, eliciting your happiness both from that event and from your broad smile.  Breath deeply and slowly.  Focus on that deep breathing, and relax.  Now gradually open your eyes and come back to your "reality".  You should find you now have a very different emotion.  The fear should be gone, and replaced with peace and happiness.

I hope you will never need to use the technique I have given you for dealing with a stalking lion, but if you do you will find this technique really is the best you can do and it could literally save your life.  I am, though, quite sure you will face other things in life which cause fear or even panic - use the state change techniques I have outlined and make that fear and other negative emotions a thing of the past.

If you feel you need help with any of the issues raised in this article, go here: 

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