Fear! Wrote a little song about it. Like to hear it? Here it goes...
Fear. Such a vast and important topic. Where to begin? How about here: some of the most devastating events for human beings have been initiated as a direct result of human’s underlying fears. Which has then caused more fear. Oh what a devastating cycle.
Fear is necessary for any living creature’s survival. It alerts us as to when there is danger, and provides us with the necessary tools in our physical bodies to escape. In our daily lives, it allows us to preemptively assess safety in situations. So when did this useful tool become one of our greatest weaknesses? When we allowed it to become the captain all of our decisions. We took our wonderful ability to survive and twisted it into a limitation. Fear unchecked causes great pain. Fear unchecked causes immense loneliness. Fear unchecked causes division and strife. Fear unchecked disrupts human connections, those of which are necessary for our emotional and physical health as evolved mammals.
Let’s begin simply by looking at one of our consistent external sources of fear: the media. Please do not mistake this as a “fake news” harangue. Rather this is an examination of the ways in which our illustrious media (no matter the political leaning, mind you) presents information to us. As I say to my teen children often, presentation of any information is key. “You need a ride somewhere? Then please do not address me as if I am your personal Uber driver.” See what I did there? The media, bless their hearts, like to present everything, even the weather, with an ominous tone. Things are looking good but wait! There are clouds on the horizon. I personally believe that information covered in a fear-based cloak is purposeful. It keeps us reliant on them for all of our safety needs. THEY will tell us when it is safe to go outside. THEY will tell us what is safe to eat. THEY will tell us who is good and who is bad. Their underlying message is consistent: keep your guard up- it’s not safe out there! We will guide you to safety.
Now let’s look at our internal mechanisms that fuel fear. For those of us brought up in homes that were not ideal, fear and uncertainty were a constant companion. For those of us who have endured traumatic events at any time in our lives, that fear can take root, stay way past its welcome. We then begin to look through fear’s lens at everything. We move away from our own intuition, our innate safety mechanisms, and look outward for guidance. We begin to fear “other”- anyone who does not look or act familiar to us. Our built in alarm system (or autonomic nervous system) is on high alert, misfiring, reacting to the slightest trigger.
Unless we are in acute danger, decisions made with fear as the driver are ultimately not in our best interest. We humans can inject fear into just about anything- we are good like that. So what can we do to manage this if our external and internal systems have become wired for it regardless of actual danger being present? As always, be mindful of it. The first step is always noticing. Start by watching 15 minutes of news cycles. Observe how the information is being presented to you. Are there other ways in which the same info could be framed without a fearful tone? Are there other things going on in your community that are positive and are never covered? Here’s an easy one: on nightly news segments, they reserve the last 5 minutes for an uplifting story. Could that story have been expanded upon to be included in a full segment? Watch for redundancy in negative reporting in the various news cycles- could they have included different stories? Notice the holes in the presentation that could have included a wider net of information.
The next step is to look inward. Do you approach things with fear without there being any obvious signs of danger? Are you uncomfortable around people who do not look, think or act like you? Do you wake each morning with a feeling of despair with no concrete source? Do not fret- so many of us are in this boat with you. Take a few moments to notice where in your body you are feeling that fear i.e your chest, stomach, head. Notice what is triggering that fear i.e. time of day, interaction, place, etc. Notice all of it without fear or judgement. (I know how ironic, noticing fear with fear!) Once you begin to see patterns in your external and internal fear sources, you can begin the long journey to changing them. You can redirect your fear reactions through this noticing. You can turn off the news sources once you have gleaned the basic updates. You can identify when your fear lens has dropped down, and consciously replace it with a more useful lens. We will always need fear for our basic survival- it can be a very useful tool and motivator. It is when it is unchecked that it becomes a pretty formidable obstacle. But not an impossible one. Begin the noticing without judging. That’s the way out.