Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fear: Gaining a Perspective on It

As I continue to work on the updating of my Care of the Whole Person for the year, I’ve noticed that I’ve written several posts on fear but haven’t included something about it in my handout. That will certainly change with the new update. So in preparation for it, here are some things to think about in terms of fear.

Rick Hanson, the neuroscientist and author of “The Buddha’s Brain,” continues to write a variety of articles on fear, how fear impacts us and what we can do to help keep it in check. In one of his most recent posts, “Are You Uneasy?” he starts off by saying, “Consider these two mistakes:
1. You think there's a tiger in the bushes, but actually there isn't one.
2. You think no tiger is in the bushes, but actually one is about to pounce.

Most of us make the first error much more often than the second one, because:
· Evolution has given us a paranoid brain. In order to survive and pass on genes, it's better to make the first mistake a hundred times rather than make the second mistake even once; the cost of the first mistake is fear for no reason, but the cost of the second mistake is death.

· Saturated with media, we get keyed up about murders, disasters, economic turmoil, horrible things happening to other people, etc. - even though our own local situation is usually much less dangerous.

· In ways that have been repeated throughout history, some political groups and even governments try to make the public more compliant by exaggerating the threat of apparent enemies.

· As a child, you were stuck with certain family members or peers, and had little power and limited coping abilities. Naturally, a person develops expectations and anxieties based on that history - even though today, you have much more freedom to find the people you want to be with, much more say over what happens to you, and many more ways to deal with tough situations.

People living with chronic conditions not only deal with their own fears, but also that of friends and family and the medical system. It’s the fear of “what if,” that prompts providers to order more tests, x-rays and even treatments. Since illness of any sort implies vulnerability and possible death, does this make providers more vigilant about finding even the remotest “tiger?” Of course, that and the fear of being sued.

While fear can be healthy when it helps to modify risky behavior- smoking, not wearing a seat belt, unprotected sex etc., it is uncontrolled or unrealistic fear that interferes with health and well being. How can we reign some of this in?

• Understand that fear is part of being human and we all experience it to one degree or another. Do not be ashamed of your fear. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have some fears, particularly when it comes to death, pain etc. Since you are not alone in this, reaching out to others can help-participate in a support group, talk to a friend, provider and/or counselor about your fears.

• Check in when you fear has a hold on you and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my immediate safety at stake?
- Is the immediate safety of someone I love and care about at stake?
- Is the amount of fear I’m experiencing reflective of what’s actually going on or what I think might happen?

Unless there is an immediate threat-not there might be a treat-try to remind yourself to live mindfully in the now. Be realistic in your fears as much as possible.

Spirituality can help you answer some of life’s mysteries and fears.

Meditation is an excellent way to help calm the brain, which effects how you think.

Other Resources
Fear of Death

Fear in the Patient Provider Relationship

Fear How to Live with It

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