Disclaimer: There are definitely real fears, such as immediate dangers and life-threatening moments (fear is the vital response to physical and emotional danger; protecting us from true threats). However, it seems that so many of our fears are self-created. This being said, I am not a medical professional, so the psychology will be kept to a high level and is a bit subjective. While this article, “Self-Created Fears Suck!”, is based on facts and research, this is also my perspective as both a “societal observer” and as one who has overcame some of my own “fears”.
This purpose of this piece is to serve as an introduction to a series of articles concerning “fear”. It is meant to encourage positive “I can do this” self-talk and to open dialogue with friends, family and your own doctor. It’s a stepping stone to recognize what we live with each day and how we can move beyond the fear.
I encourage you to consider many points of view and to consult a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist as appropriate for your individual situation.
We were not created to live in fear—real or perceived. Sadly, we seem to be a society more anxious and fearful than ever.
Fear is an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined.
“Fear is an adaptive behavior that we have to help identify threats. It is an ability that has allowed us as humans to survive predators and natural disasters.” It is powerful and primitive, helping to keep us alive for centuries. The psychology surrounding fears is considered complex as they often stem from past traumas, PTSD, current environment, genetic predisposition or many other factors.
Perhaps surprisingly, we are born with only two innate fears: falling and loud sounds. It’s these fears that allow us not to step off the actual ledge (although we seem to be really great at stepping off the proverbial one lol!) and to duck and cover when we hear a startling loud noise. So, how terrible can that be—two fears that serve us well?
Oh, if only that were so!
Real Fear By Association
There is the more serious fear known as Real Fear by Association. An example would be someone who was around when a backpack exploded and he/she (or anyone around) sustained injuries, then any backpack could trigger that fear. Also, there is the terrifying fear when living in an abusive situation that emotional or physical harm (or death) could happen at any time and without any warning.
There is the fear associated with someone raising their hand near to your face or when someone is standing too close and yelling at you. This may be a trigger due to being harmed or neglected as a child. These are all legitimate fears that may require professional intervention and extensive therapy.
This is the universal response, meaning that when we are all facing a perceived danger; our bodies react in similar ways including sweating, increase in heart rate and that pumping adrenaline. We know this better as fight or flight.
Fight or Flight
We are taking a nice leisurely stroll on our favorite path, and suddenly, there it is “all coiled up and hissing” (see what I did there all you REO fans?). Your brain says “You have two choices.” In the amygdala, (almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere, involved with the experiencing of emotions), a signal goes off that says “this is something to fear”. You can fight the snake or you can run. I am guessing you are choosing the latter (I think…)
At the same time, a reasoning response kicks in that says, “I have seen this snake before and I have nothing to worry about.” Thank goodness for this reasoning as it often overrides the fear response.
This is significantly personalized response. Some people don’t feel fear but rather a sense of excitement, thriving on extreme sports or other thrill-seeker situations. Others have an extremely negative response
“When people tell you they don’t fly because they are afraid of flying, you need not believe them. They don’t fly because they don’t buy airline tickets.” ~ David Reynolds
I have flown many times in my life and I can only say I was afraid one time. This was when I was on a small plane from Raleigh to Pittsburgh at night in a major thunder and lightning storm. That plane was rocking and falling & climbing. Yes, I was a bit white-knuckled during that flight. It ended without incident thankfully. Guess what, having survived that, I now realize that turbulence doesn’t really seem to bother me anymore.
The fears with regard to flying that some people experience may occur more frequently once they have children since their responsibilities have increased. There may be a fear of lightning striking the plane. You’ll be happy to know that, according to Scientific America, a crash attributed to lightning in the U.S. has not occurred since 1967; planes are built with this possibility in mind and have many protections to keep us safe.
In this case, things can become less terrifying the more we face them. Experience can bring comfort when reasoning fails. My suggestion is: keep showing up; keep buying tickets.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that occasional anxiety is normal. It might occur when facing a problem at work or home, before taking an exam or when faced with making an important decision. Anxiety disorders involve much more than a temporary worry or fear. In these cases, the anxiety does not go away and may worsen. Examples are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder & Social Anxiety Disorder. Each of these categories has its own symptoms but for the purpose of this article, let’s focus on the following:
–Restlessness or on edge
–Difficulty controlling worry
–Sudden periods of intense fear
–Feeling out of control
–Intense worries of when the next episode will happen
–Fear or avoidance of place where episodes have happened in
–Feeling extremely self-conscious in front of others
–Very afraid of the judgement of others
–Worrying for lengthy periods before an event
Risk factors for these disorders include, but are not limited to genetics, environment, shyness in childhood, being female (although I do know many men who suffer from one or more of these types of anxiety), exposure to stressful life events, parental history of mental disorders, elevated cortisol levels (social anxiety).
Treatments and therapies may include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, self-help & support groups, stress-management techniques, medications, antidepressants (see info in link below), anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers. Each individual is unique and working with a professional will help to determine the best course of action.
For additional information, visit NIMH » Anxiety Disorders
Fear mongering—the action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a certain issue
Oh, the learned fears such as spiders and snakes for example. As children, we aren’t necessarily afraid of these things, but rather, we learn from our parents, the environment and evolution. People learned early on not to touch these things once it was determined they are possibly quite deadly. While there should be some fear associated with these things, how many dangerous spiders, snakes, rodents, and plants have or will you truly come in contact with in your life time? You learn what might be dangerous and you avoid it. There is really no reason to fear these things in the normal course of our day.
My so-called fear of “1,000 leggers” is maybe about their large bodies when it’s time to squish them. But I still outweigh them in size and stature, so what is it that I truly fear? Perhaps it’s more about the speed and surprise when they scurry across the floor or the unpleasantness if I would happen to step on one in bare feet. It’s quite silly actually especially if you let them just run off back to the dark spaces and let them eat the other pests that find their way into your home.
If I don’t see them, I don’t think about them. (And if all else fails, hairspray them so they don’t run off and you can capture them, or scald them and send them right back down the drain. I know, it’s not the right thing to do, but at 5:30 a.m., thinking clearly is not always happening.) As I sit at my desk typing this, this “fear” seems completely absurd and totally irrational.
The same thing could be said about my “fear” of heights. I was never pushed from something tall and I rarely put myself into situations where I could fall from a cliff or other tall object, so why should I fear these things? I ride roller coasters (I have just adapted to look straight ahead while going up). I don’t care for Ferris Wheels, walking across a bridge, or riding a ski lift or cable cars, but guess what, I have done them all. I choose not to ride Ferris wheels, ski lifts or cable cars because there is no need to do that.
I rode that Pitfall (like the Tower of Terror) at an amusement park, I walk on the sidewalk closest to the road when crossing a bridge and I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night. Yes the top, up that small flight of stairs that takes you outside where the wind is whipping and there is only a small guard railing (well that may have changed as it was 30 years ago). Of course I stayed close to the wall, but I did it!
And mother of all surprises—although I was anxious, I don’t think it was terror or fright that I was feeling and I certainly didn’t die. If I sit back and really analyze all of these situations—was it anxiety or fright or was it exhilaration?
When my son and I visited the Grand Canyon this past summer, I do admit to being frightened as he got close to the edge of the rocks, but he felt amazing and full of wonder. He kept telling me he knew what he was doing and was not that close. The mom in me was being super protective and he let me know what a buzz kill it was. Moms will always worry, but we also have to trust that they are being careful. That’s our job; teach them to be aware and cautious of true dangers but not to be fearful of every little thing.
Another such example of made up fears: skeletons, costumed characters and clowns. A skeleton is not scary at all, but we hear over and over how spooky one is, especially during the Halloween season. So, what happens—beginning at a very young age, we become afraid of something most of us will never experience in our lifetime. And if you need to get over your “fear” of costumed characters, I invite you to attend Anthrocon (Furry Convention) in Pittsburgh next June.
Sadly, we have our minds so trained that it is fear we are feeling that we are losing out on the true, astonishingly outstanding experiences. What happens then: we pass on this “fear” knowledge to others. So rather than feeling free, we feel anxiety, palpitations, breathless or that we are tied to a rock and sinking down into the depths.
These learned fears are really where we as a society need to focus. Many times, these pass down from generation to generation and get worse as the years go on. These fears are often brought on by ignorance. We fear that which we don’t understand or might be different from us or our beliefs. Rather than take time to become educated by reading or attending classes—or, get this—actually speaking with people—we continue to choose fear.
Ignorance is not bliss; rather it breeds disengagement, apathy, disrespect and potentially full-blown hatred. (All you have to do is to read the comments on any Facebook story (even the happy ones). The amount of jealousy, hate and evil spewed from someone hidden behind the veil of a computer screen is heartbreaking.)
This ignorance causes us to become followers instead of leaders; followers who have never honed or have completely lost any critical thinking skills. We fear, therefore we hide. We fear thinking for ourselves because we may have to actually defend our position and, oh, someone may no longer like us as much. We human beings will be the cause our own destruction unless we lose our fears and stand up for ourselves and others.
Why is there so much turmoil and chaos in the world? FEAR! We human beings make it so difficult on ourselves and others. I believe fear is the root of so many of the issues facing us today. When we choose to feed the fears, they turn into insecurities, which lead to withdrawal or worse—hatred.
IT’S FEAR & IGNORANCE THAT LEAD US TO HATRED
Look at this list (yes, I had a few). How many of these “fears” do you have?
Whew! This is quite a list and I am sure I can add more. It’s a mixture of exhausting, convoluted, crazy, somewhat understandable, but overall kind of absurd. Add to it heights, balloons, sharks, scissors, clowns, etc. Do you want to live this way or do you want to choose a life with less fear?
The fears listed above don’t have to exist you know. If your mind can sit with these fears, the mind can kick them out. We are stronger than these self-created fears; we can take back control.
We need to work diligently to let them go and to support others who are on the same quest. We must be the change first that we wish to see in the world and it begins with ourselves. Eliminating our fears through knowledge, meditation, taking control of our minds, etc. is the first step in moving out of the trap in which we’ve become ensnared.
Over the next few posts, we will talk about ways to overcome these fears. As we take this journey remember this:
Love whom you wish to love, be kind, seek knowledge, forgive yourself and others, lift one another up, stand up and be heard. Make it a point to chat with a stranger, take one baby step out of your comfort zone, and vow to learn one new thing each week about something or someone who frightens you.
Together, let’s work to live fear-less and more joy-full!