LOCKED IN FEAR - HOW TO REGAIN CONTROL AND REGULATE OUR RESPONSE TO FEAR
Updated: May 10
Some of us are more relaxed than others these days as the world has been tipped up side down...
Aggression levels have risen significantly in recent months targeting race and gender. It made me ponder over the driving force behind the recent shift in human behavioural patterns - about our fear and how its elevated levels manifest in our relating.
Fear is an instinctive, physiological response to the change of circumstances. Externally or internally, the more the usual changes, the more intense a response to this change.
Most of us, who have been living relatively comfortably until recently, are now feeling vulnerable reacting in ways previously unknown to them. Which is just a result of being forced to abruptly alter our known ways of being without appropriate support. How one reacts to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness depends on the level of his or her individual awareness.
Are you present to how your fears drive your response to adversity?
Our fearful response is a learned reaction to things being in motion - either expected (anticipation, anxiety) or unexpected (shock, panic). Since unprecedented times bring along much unpredictability, our minds (otherwise comfortably on autopilot) are continually on high alert. Our senses overstimulated, our emotions running high, as we are being challenged by an endless stream of new, often confusing information, leading to an incessant stream of thoughts. Thoughts we automatically agree with once they pass through our internal belief system. What is our belief system made of? Mostly 'inherited' assumptions formed in our early lives (our core beliefs) plus conclusions based on these assumption formed during our teenage years and adulthood. Our fear structure and its size is a perfect projection of our belief structure, propped up and held together by our core beliefs: We worry that we will be rejected (at work, by our partner, by society) and that everything will be taken away from us (the sense of who we are, our supply of love, our place in the world). We essentially fear that we will cease to matter.
With changes to our norm, our sense of safety is at stake like someone has firmly grabbed the proverbial rug under our feet. We fear losing stability at any moment. Powerless, ready to be tossed around with no sense of control whatsoever. Our minds are no longer comfortably cruising, required to pull all the stops in response to multiple threats as we anticipate an emergency landing. The panic alarm is overwhelmingly loud, limiting our ability to reason. Bracing ourselves, hyperventilating, we gasp for oxygen. We really believe that this will be the end of us...
The only way to regulate our fears is by examining our thoughts, our beliefs.
A single belief in our powerlessness can send our minds and bodies into frenzy. Believing we are trapped without options, without a single escape route, leads to an irrational, instinctive behaviour - an attack. It doesn’t matter if we believe to be trapped in our homes, in a current political climate, or by an overwhelming amount of conflicting information coming from the sources we look up to. When dealing with an overwhelm and uncertainty, our primitive brains are primed to face conflict head on. With zero awareness, without switching on our higher brain on (our logic, wider perspective, and context) our minds narrow their focus and target a perceived threat with precision. The deeper our unawareness, the more active our primitive brain, our fears convincing us the threats are real and needing to be destroyed. The result? Domestic violence, road rage, sexual assaults, racism...
Discharging our frustration through others (no matter how justified it seems in a moment) robs us of our true power by leaving us unable to re-establish our balance and peace in our life. By allowing our lower brain to take control in situations where we already feel off centre we are further destabilising our lives.
So how can we reclaim our power, not allowing our bodies to execute their primal orders? With awareness we can change how we think about an event, hence our feelings. As supposed to taking on the impossible (no matter how enticing!) and attempting to change the event itself. It is so tempting to want to make others behave in ways we desire!
The definition of unawareness is desiring to battle those who are already in a war with themselves.
Adversity isn't anything else but a change we perceive in a negative light. The more unaware the mind, the more it is residing in a survival mode, automatically focusing on the bad. When limiting beliefs drive our thinking, undermining our true strength, we tend to act in ways that further limit and impair our life. A mindlessness galore can be observed when two or more people unconsciously perceive themselves, others, and the world...
Being mindful is knowing exactly where our weaknesses lie. But we are far from weak by facing our emotional truth. In fact, only by acknowledging that we feel fearful in the moment, we have the opportunity to alter how we think about our fear. Because if we think of it as bad, trying to ignore it’s noise, the noise will get typically louder in time. Even if we manage to bulldozer it into our subconscious, it rears it’s scary head at night, disturbing our deep sleep or waking us in sweat in a midst of a nightmare. If on the other hand we perceive our fear simply as a messenger we can thank it for it’s message. From a place of gratitude for its concern, our wellbeing, we then reconnect to our breath. Becoming centred again we then act furher from a position of strength.
99% of issues (beside rare, true emergencies), in fact shouldn't be dealt with on the spot because our primitive brain is forced to produce limited, for us deficient, outcomes.
Perhaps the most important take away from this is that a fear creates the sense of false urgency. We typically feel like we have to act immediately, perceiving our fear as a dangerous dog requiring us to armour up in order not to lose. But really, what do we lose? Our ability to view changes from a wider angle, in their broader context, providing us with an unbiased perspective? A non-judgemental observation and attitude, leading to a fair estimation and non-discriminatory conclusion? Our ability to not go against ourselves?
What if we could see our fear as a serving companion instead? Eager to protect us from danger, our fear oftentimes barks at anything that moves. Being aware of its limitations we become the responsible, wise master, experiencing peace, emotional stability and harmony in life no matter how strongly, or how often, is our fear barking. It is up to us to pat it’s back when facing uncertainty and say ‘Thank you for letting me know, but it is OK. I am safe right now.’ Just because our fear wants us to fight our corner it doesn't mean we are in any kind of advantage by proceeding.
Your challenge isn't to take on just any fight but become aware of all your options. To practice this try the following:
The next time you feel overwhelmed, pressured by outer circumstances, see if you can re-connect to your breath, putting any decision making aside, allowing space and time for your higher brain to kick in. In this space you will be able to come up with solutions previously hidden due to your mind's limited focus.
Reflect thereafter on what would have happened if you had acted in the moment, and how different were your actions as a result of creating space around the presenting issue.
The more often you can practice this, the quicker you will be able to calm yourself in challenging situations, in time gaining confidence in your ability to tackle change.
Thank you for reading. If my article contributed to understanding yourself, please be generous and share it with others.
Copyright © 2020 Michaela Patel