Facing Down Fear
It’s all in your mind. That’s where you’ll find the solution, too.
By Joseph Wegmann, LCSW, R.Ph.
Fear has always been a significant factor in the course of human development. For more years than one could possibly count, mankind has been plagued by fear of confrontation, disapproval, rejection and failure, to name just a select few.
Fear is what kept prehistoric man hunkered down in his cave when fearsome man-eaters ruled the earth tens of thousands of years ago. More recently, in the 1930s, fear played an important role during the severe economic depression that affected many nations worldwide. Later, World War II and the subsequent Cold War introduced new fears. Today we live with the ever-present threat of global terrorism.
According to Webster’s, fear is the sensation of “expectation with alarm.” From a physiological perspective, fear is the emotion we experience when the autonomic nervous system releases adrenaline, energizing us for “fight or flight.” In this view, fear functions as a necessary wake-up call motivating us to be hyper-alert. Fear enables us to take protective actions against both known and unknown harms.
Fear is universal; everyone experiences it from time to time. But the way we react to fear is not always appropriate. For example, when we identify with fear through our negative personal experiences, we are prone to examine fear in an unempowered way. Fear becomes the worrier in our head that interprets a situation to mean the worst will happen. Then we may automatically begin the process of scanning our world for evidence that supports our limiting beliefs. This, in turn, can lead to self-defeating thoughts: I can’t handle this. This is too much for me. If I try, I’ll surely fail.
It’s important to understand that fear is all in your imagination. That is, what you dread is based largely on pondering a series of “what-ifs,” “might-have-beens” and “what could-have-beens.” Adopting this frame of mind means separating yourself from the present – and the present is the only thing you can control. In other words, the majority of what we experience as fear is a product of self-programming designed to make us feel helpless and run away.
So how do you get past your fear of something? There are many ways. Let’s focus here on a few:
Notice it. When you feel afraid, first simply step back and acknowledge it. Don’t try to analyze, understand, assess or figure out your fear just yet. Stepping back and noticing can help you gain perspective and a temporary respite from the concerns associated with the fear. Put another way, you’ll give yourself some emotional space.
Distinguish what is real from what is imagined. While most fear is associated with future “what-ifs” and past “could’ve-beens,” some fear is legitimately in the present. For example, if you say something silly at a business meeting that embarrasses you, that is in the present, and that is real. But what if you conclude that, as a result, you will never again be taken seriously by your colleagues? That is not in the present, and it is likely imaginary.
Ask questions. What is this fear really about? If the fear came true, what would that mean? What is this fear preventing me from doing? What other questions do these questions raise? If queries such as these seem useless, remember this: Poor logic lies at the root of practically all fear, and good questions can help you reveal this poor logic.
Professional assistance. If fear has immobilized you or has in some other way interfered with your daily activities, consider seeking the services of a trained therapist or counselor. Phobias respond quite favorably to intervention strategies, and a professional can tailor these interventions to your specific needs.
We all struggle with fear; that’s just the way we humans are wired. The challenge is to understand and change the way you respond to fear. So the next time you experience fear, try changing:
Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at www.pesi.com. To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at www.thepharmatherapist.com, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.