Fear is a fact of life. The great gifts of humanity were created trying to overcome fear. Civilization was built on the simple idea of “How can I make my family a little safer so they can survive?” While the methods of that struggle have changed, the mechanics are the same.
Today, we are bombarded with a global menu of scary stuff. Fear is a natural response to legitimate danger. Running from a burning building is a very healthy thing to do. Wearing a seat belt is another example.
Fear, when applied to our greatest attributes makes them toxic. Fear weaponizes all that is right and good in the world. Here are some examples.
“Persistence + Fear = Stubbornness”
“Pride + Fear = Arrogance”
“Love + Fear = Obsession”
“Curiosity + Fear = Paranoia”
“Kindness + Fear = Manipulation”
“Ambition + Fear = Gluttony”
“Intelligence + Fear = Pretentiousness”
“Meditation + Fear = Resentment”
“Skepticism + Fear = Denial”
“Piety + Fear = Self-righteousness”
Or natural fear of the unknown has been exploited for most political, business, and entertainment ends. The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous best describes: “It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.”
Here is the thing, being afraid of stuff, however petty, is what makes us human. One of the great things about being human is our history of transcending that animal fear into something beautiful. Every religion or spiritual practice basically sprung from a desire to rise above our base nature of fight or flight.
Transcending fear is not the same thing as eliminating it.
So, how do we overcome it? If you are truly being overwhelmed by anxiety and panic attacks, you need to avail yourself of professional, medical help. Life isn’t a contest to see who can suffer the most pain. If your days and nights are consumed by fear, anxiety, and panic, it doesn’t need to be that way and there is help.
Here is what helps me:
Talking about it. I rat myself out. Fear is a virus with an elegant survival mechanism contingent on silence. I have people in my life who I practice telling the truth to on a regular basis.
Exercise. Just going for a walk really does help. It’s not a cure-all but when your body is pumping itself full of adrenaline, use it.
Get active in the community. Join a church or civic group that works to help people less fortunate than you. It’s hard to be self-centered for long when trying to make someone’s life a little more comfortable. Furthermore, even if you are still busy thinking about yourself while serving the community, good work is being done in spite of you.
Peaceful projects. Find an activity that you can get lost in for a while. It could be a jigsaw puzzle, cooking, drawing, playing a sport, music, whatever.
Make peace. We live our lives in relationships and no one does them perfectly. If there are people in your life who you have unfinished business with, do what you can to make that right. The magical words that help heal:
- “I was wrong”
- “I’m sorry.”
- “What do you think?”
- “How can I help.”
A caveat to the above suggestion: ask disinterested parties for help in figuring out your side of a broken or bent relationship. Often we can make things worse when trying to fix things for the sake of our own comfort by ourselves.
When I’m afraid, isolating is the worst thing I can do. Most of the suggestions I make about overcoming normal human fear and anxiety are related to not isolating.
When you’re afraid, get clear about what scares you, talk about that with another human being, and get on with the business of living. There is no permanent cure for this condition of fear, but there are plenty of ways to harness and overcome for a greater adventure.
If all else fails, drop me a line.