Saturday, June 4, 2011

Get a Grip: Keeping Fear in Check

For the past two Saturdays, I posted about the Millerites and the recent “Rapture,” as well as what happens when things don’t work out as planned or expected. In the “take home points” of last week’s post, the first bullet was keep “fear in check,” as fear plays a significant role in why people make choices that may not work out so well for them.

Fear is a common enough occurrence that I’ve written about it four different times on this blog, each time with a bit of a different twist. I suspect I will continue to write about it from time to time, as it shows itself in new ways.

My goal with this post is to try and summarize previous articles, listed below, and to explore some ways you can help to keep it in check. I’ve included various approaches as “one size doesn’t fit all.” You know what’s best for you.

So what’s our biggest fear? Americans include public speaking, heights, insects (cockroaches, snakes), financial problems, deep water, sickness, death, flying, loneliness, and dogs. Now compare that to humans living 11,000 years ago and earlier where survival meant knowing how to read the winds and smells and understanding if the shadow in the bush was a tiger or just wind. Needless to say, times have changed but our brains haven’t quite caught up with the 21st century. Our reaction to a dog shouldn’t be the same as it was for our ancient ancestors who had a saber tooth tiger eyeing him. Yet, we do cycle our fears much as if the local beagle is a snarling tiger who’d eat your heart out just as soon as look at you. In short, our brain circuitry needs an upgrade, which we are capable of doing through tools like mindfulness.

If you look at the list of fears above, fear of death, be it from falling from great heights, being bitten by a snake, dog or insect, flying, and deep water, is really the root issue of many of our fears. Financial problems, loneliness and public speaking are variations on this theme of loss. As realistic as your fears may be, know that you are not alone in them. Support groups, on-line or in person, are excellent ways to discuss them with people who understand. Individual therapy can also be helpful.

The Wake Up Cloud website has 33 Powerful Ways of Overcoming Fear…Right Now. One of the strategies the author recommends is Byron Reid’s The Works. Reid was in a severe state of depression and came out of it by recognizing that her negative thoughts were causing her considerable harm. In a flash of insight, Katie saw that our attempt to find happiness was backward—instead of hopelessly trying to change the world to match our thoughts about how it “should” be, we can question these thoughts and, by meeting reality as it is, experience unimaginable freedom and joy ..Loving What Is

What I like about “The Works” website is that it does provide enough information and tools to help you implement this technique if you think it might be right for you.

If you are thinking that it isn’t so much fear as it is stress, realize that stress is a milder form of fear. Left unchecked, stress can compound medical problems and create havoc.

What about moments of extreme fear or stress? One friend told me that when she realizes she’s out of control, she covers one eye. That seems to slow things down and helps her gain perspective. Another person focuses on the immediate environment-there are five birds outside the window, the tea kettle is boiling, the furnace just kicked in, my office mate is wearing a new perfume etc. Create mindfulness reminders to help you remind yourself to be present and not lost in thoughts. Maybe one of the most helpful things is to remind yourself that thoughts are not facts.

Your child isn’t home from his friend’s house at the appointed hour. That’s a fact. Worrying that the child was kidnapped or run over by a truck is a thought. This is a false reality based on your thoughts. Chances are good that something else came up, like winning a new level on a video game, and they lost track of time.

Two weeks ago, many people were caught up in the idea that the end was near. Even thought it had no basis in reality, it caused considerable suffering for some people. Practicing mindfulness is a way to see the world as it really is, not one based on your thoughts and fears.

Additional posts on fear

Getting Perspective on Fear (understand why we are fearful and some strategies for coping).

Fear of Death

Fear in the Patient Provider Relationship

Fear How to Live with It

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