What Scares You?

Fear! even the word can strike a cold chill in most people!

We don’t like to think about the scary things, those things that shake our core and live in the dark recesses of our minds. Since prehistoric times, when our ancestors roamed the world we have recognized that some things scare us, some of these are real, and other are imagined.

For those early humans there were some very real things to be scared of, sabre tooth tigers prowled the land, huge cows call aurochs who could trample you to death, unknown plants that could poison you, any injury could be the end of you and if you couldn’t run fast then you might end up as dinner for something else!

But human imagination has also been a strong factor in developing fears, in fact these are probably the ones that have scared us as a species the most throughout our existence. We see these evidenced in early rock art, historic story telling, buried in religions and iconology and passed down the generations as allegorical tales to scare children or warn them about those possible dangers, who remembers the stories of monsters under the bed to ensure children stayed in bed, or stranger danger warnings?

We all have our fears, both real and imagined. Whether they are justified; heights for example or irrational like spiders (In the UK no spider can hurt you!! In other countries this might be a rational fear!!) fears are real for people and how we deal with them defines how we approach a range of situations.

We probably can all relate to that weird feeling in the pit of our stomach just before we arrive for that important interview, or first day at a new school or job? What do we do with it, do we allow ourselves to be crippled by it? Does it stop us pressing the intercom or pushing open the door?

Hopefully it doesnt, so what do we do to deal with it?

Some people might bury the feeling, climb over it or push it deep inside, others might do some deep breathing or focus on the task to allow them to overcome the feelings and push on. Most of us in this situation recognize that there is an opportunity ahead and are able to seize the fear and turn it to an advantage, a competitive edge , something that keeps us sharp and performing.

Physiologically we are talking about managing adrenaline and overriding our natural physical processes of our amygdala, the gland that gives us our fight, flight or freeze responses. I have talked in a previous blog about how the American climber Alex Honnald uses the fact that his amygdala works differently from most people and requires a higher level of stimulation (fear) to work, allowing him to undertake un-roped solo climbs of huge almost featureless rock walls, which for most people would be far to scary to even look at!

Understanding your fears seems to be the first step in understanding and overcoming them. Recognizing that some are real, and can actually kill us, and some are more imagined, and may not actually kill us, or the percentage chance of it happening are very slim. (statistics show us that falling out of bed is more dangerous that the chance of being attacked by a shark, but how many of us even think about the risk before we jump, roll or stagger out of bed in the morning!)

The greater our understanding the opportunity exists to confront them and own them. Samurai Warriors would meditate every day on all the ways that they might possibly die. By doing this they confronted their fear of dying, therefore making it easier to go into battle, knowing that they had imagined and worked through their deaths 100 different ways.

This is an extreme situation to confront and own your fears, but demonstrates that actually owning them is one method that we could all do.

Overcoming the fear isn’t the aim here, I think that we should never completely get rid of our fears, the job of our amygdala is to operate as the bodies control mechanisms for risk, its bio feedback, including fears is giving us clues to what is happening around us, consciously or unconsciously providing us with warnings. So working on confronting fears isn’t about removing or dismissing them, more about finding ways to filter them, allowing us to pick how we want to consciously control them for our own , more positive benefit.

Recognizing that job interview is scary, shows that you really want the job, that you are excited at the prospect of a new direction, so taking that deep breath, focusing and pressing that intercom, ensures that we can leap at the opportunity in front of that. We can essentially do the same for many fears, own them, accept them and find ways to use them positively.

One classically espoused method is to expose ourselves to fear, this allows us to find out how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally, so go climbing, spend time looking at spider pictures, maybe hold one, test your self. “Do something every day that scares you” is a often quoted saying, usually attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but actually said by Mary Schmich, but the intention is to promote the idea that challenging ourselves everyday prepares us for the bigger things that come our way in life, preparing the body and mind to react and manage situations, to take opportunities and to be resilient in times of hardship.

It looks to me that managing our fears seems to be about 6 things-

Recognizing that fear can be positive!

Fear is important- it lets us know about possible risks.

There is opportunity in fear.

Own our fears, recognize what they do to us, meditate on them to overcome them.

Expose ourselves to risk and fear can be positive.

Give time to our fears prepares us for the unexpected.

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