Its fair to say that in the present moment where everything may seem confusing and uncertain that many of us may feel afraid. We all sometimes feel fear – of unforeseen abandonment; financial instability; illness; loud noises or even clowns (come on its not just me!). Remember that while they are connected, fear and anxiety are not the same thing. We can stop fear directing us along the road to anxiety – we have the tools we need if we use them.
Millions of people suffer from chronic fear-related disorders. Sometimes it may seem like we’re living in a time of pervasive fear and its often not helped by social media. Take some time to unplug and make sure your social media gives you balance – there is good news and kindness everywhere – don’t let yourself focus solely on the negative. Remember ‘neurons that fire together wire together’ which means its really true to say that what you focus on you will become.
How does fear work?
‘We learn early in life to be afraid of anything that has caused us pain. In its healthiest form, this is a good way to ensure our survival and create the conditions necessary for safety and well-being. The Buddha described different types of fear: the useful kind that prepares us to take skillful action and reduce harm, and the kind that makes us see a cobra where a piece of rope has cast its shadow.
But what if we have been unable to ward off pain, either because of circumstances beyond our control, or because we have not yet learned how to protect the mind when necessary? In this scenario, fear can slip into anxiety, a feeling known by anyone who has been unsafe for extended periods of time. Fear and anxiety are not the same, although they are often connected. Fear is a signal that we are about to face an imminent and knowable threat; it alerts our body and nervous system to danger. An approaching tornado, for instance, will induce a powerful and physiological response: we need to mobilize in order to survive. Anxiety, by contrast, is a response to a (perceived) future threat or inner conflict. It is a feeling of dread that something unwanted may be coming, but when and how remain unknowable and beyond one’s control.
When we have been badly hurt, the fear of yet more pain catalyses anxiety. And living with this combination of fear and anxiety makes it hard to figure out what’s a rope and what’s a snake. Our thinking gets fuzzy as our feelings run too high.
All emotions, including fear, are multileveled, with a psychological, a physiological, and a behavioural component. For some of us, frightening situations make us want to find our loved ones and hold on tight. For others, fear shunts us into isolation, where we may try to protect ourselves.
Of course, humans, like all animals, have strong physiological responses to fear. When we are afraid, the amygdala, a small organ in the centre of the brain, immediately sends a signal to the autonomic nervous system. This is what spurs an increased ability to run like hell or fight like an alley cat…
A Buddhist/ Yogic perspective on fear, and the practices that address it, can offer an extraordinary antidote to these habituated reactions. According to both fields, fear is not inherent in what is known as main or basic mind. What is inherent? Clear seeing and clear thinking. Spaciousness and true/pure awareneness’
A DIFFERENT WAY OF BEING or CONTROL YOUR FEAR – LEARN NOT TO LET IT CONTROL YOU
We all feel fear sometimes. The truth is all feelings come and go – that’s their nature. But if we don’t train our minds to see that, to be able to sit with the present and to know that it changes second by second then we can end up riding life like a roller coaster that threatens to hurl us from our seats at every turn.
Here’s an example of what happens when we train our minds : When meditators / yogis are subjected to painful stimuli—an experience likely to provoke fear and anger—they have the same physiological response as everyone else. But unlike non-meditators, who continue to show increasing signs of distress, these yogis return to a baseline of equanimity almost immediately. This is compelling evidence that meditation/yoga practice is no indulgence. It’s potentially life-changing and, in the right circumstances, life-saving. It helps us to stop identifying with strong feelings such as fear and anger so that we can quickly recover our ability to feel safe and act accordingly.
Did you know what’s happening when you find a yoga pose that’s challenging and you sit in that place of sweet discomfort just taking time to allow your breath to return to an easy rise and fall? Letting yourself sit with the discomfort (not pain!) for a time and re-connecting to a steady breath gives your brain time to realise actually its all OK. Its actually stops sending the chemicals that create fight or flight mode into your body and learns to take a little time before hitting the panic switch in the future. Yoga teachers didn’t often start out calm – our brains learned calm!
‘When most people experience acute fear, the mind gets fuzzy as the blood flows from the brain to the limbs. Our logical brain switches off and our emotional brain switches on. And this happens just when we most need to be most discerning. But if the nervous system is trained to recover, we’re much better able to keep cool, breathe, and think things through. No fainting, no fleeing, no slapping necessary.’
Practice breathing, slowly and deeply – in and out through the nose – counting, in for 4-6 and out 7-9. Try to do it for 5 – 10 minutes every day – the more you practice the more your brain learns to call on the resource you’ve created when you need it.
The next time you feel afraid, your fears may be strong and real. They may be a response to pain or perceived threat. Remember the actual threat doesn’t need to be real for you to feel real fear and for your body to react – IT DOESN’T MATTER – what matters is what you feel and that doesn’t make you dumb it makes you human!
But deep within your mind/body system, there is a reliable and fast-acting remedy. Whether you call it a regulated nervous system, buddha nature, clear seeing, inner strength or even Brian – the right medicine is available. And then, very fast it changes and you feel like you again.
Thanks to Adam Fuss for his quotes