Everyone feels fear. Fear is one of the earliest, primal emotions meant to preserve life. Most creatures that experience fear instinctively know how to process it so they can move on with life in relative peace and harmony.
Humans are a little different. We have the ability to hang on to fear. We can bury it, avoid it, deny it and hold on to it so that, rather than processing it, it continues to haunt and torment us. Our fears can accumulate into hypervigilance and anxiety. We can re-traumatize ourselves with memories of the painful past and dread of the future. There’s a giant list of ways we can suffer if we don’t know how to process fear properly.
In the face of so much world calamity and unrest, it’s helpful to have some healthy guidelines for understanding and managing difficult emotions. As life throws obstacles our way, we absolutely CAN manage our fear, experience peace and joy in the face of distressing circumstances, and let our struggles be a source of personal growth and strength. Here are some emotional guides in regard to fear:
Don’t React Out of Fear or Anger
This is a basic concept, but it’s truly groundbreaking when we realize that we don’t have to act on our emotions. Our teen years are a tumultuous age because our hormones and emotions surge to a new height. Every experience in life becomes more intense. Life becomes hyper-intense and overly significant. On one hand, this is a beautiful time of life because everything becomes more meaningful. Life, art, music, philosophy, beauty… everything takes on a grand, even epic proportion and we start experiencing life at new heights.
On the other hand, few of us are taught how to actually manage our emotions. Instead, we’re busy trying to reconcile the world’s expectations of us with our own dreams of the future. Teen years are tumultuous and melodramatic largely because we act on impulses and emotions which tend to be intense and irrational. We learn many difficult lessons the hard way. Hopefully, we learn our lessons enough that life settles down and we find a “groove” in life, as it were. The biggest lessons we learn are that acting on our emotions doesn’t always get us what we want, and sometimes what we want isn’t always best for us.
Despite the wisdom and relative peace we can find in life’s routines, life doesn’t follow our agenda. New things pop up that rock our worlds. Terrorism, political corruption, corporate crime, economic upheaval, moral decay, disease. We’re constantly bombarded with unrest of people’s bad behavior. What to do? First, keep our cool. If we need to process the fear, we can channel it in healthy ways like exercise, or going for a walk. Fear is a survival emotion, so if we react out of fear, the best we can hope to do is survive. Most of us wish to thrive in life, not merely survive. Rather than acting on emotion, we must act with wisdom. It is important to keep our eye fixed on the overall goal. It is okay to feel fear, but fear should never be our guide.
Listen To Fear’s Deeper Meaning
Emotions are messengers telling us something is up. The problem is, if it’s an unpleasant emotion, we might not want to listen. If we’re facing fear, sorrow, anger or other difficult emotions, and we don’t know how to manage them, then we may fight or run from them. If, however, we sit with our emotions, we can learn volumes about ourselves, our life, our dreams and desires, our choices (good and bad), and the unconscious beliefs that drive our lives. Gaining this wisdom helps us navigate life better, and find more joy and peace.
So, let’s talk about fear as a messenger. Fear is the messenger of “fight, flight or freeze.” Rational fear makes sense. If a bully attacks, we may fight. If a tornado is coming, we may take flight. If the teacher asks a question and we don’t know the answer, we may freeze, hoping they don’t call on us. Rational fear is when we are literally in some form of physical danger and taking action will give us a good chance at survival. Rational fears can tell us important things about situations we may have to deal with: A boss we need to stand up to, a spouse we have to have a difficult conversation with, an illness we need courage to face. Rather than acting out on these fears, we can use that energy to give us strength in resolving those situations the best way we know how.
Fictional fear, or fear from hypothetical situations, is tougher to manage. We can live in fear of the future, a time and place that doesn’t exist. We can feel threatened if someone insults the way we walk, talk, dress, or think. We can get stressed out by all the negative news coming at us, even if it doesn’t directly affect us in any way. In these cases, we have to be more diligent about listening to the messages fear is trying to tell us. It helps to give our fears some time, space and a listening ear. Meditation and journaling are fantastic practices for gaining clarity on our thoughts and emotions.
Our fictional fears might tell us many things. As we listen, we might learn that we’ve been trying to please others rather than live an authentic life. Fear can tell us that the life tools we used in the past no longer serve us. For instance, shyness and hiding were immensely helpful in my youth, but they were hindrances to me as an adult. Fear can tell us that we’re putting too much stock in others’ opinions. It can point out when we’re being overly stubborn, judgmental, demanding, making blind assumptions. As we listen to our irrational fears, we might learn that the things we thought would bring happiness (money, validation, possessions) don’t, and that other things (kindness, compassion, honesty) are sources of true happiness.
As we thank our fears for the wisdom they carry, we can shed them with new knowledge and courage. We can shed our fears by embracing the adventure of life and living in appreciation of the many miracles that fill our life. While fear may seem scary, when we listen to it we find it can be a wellspring of life-giving wisdom.
Replace Fear With Something Positive
It’s folly to think we can just make fear go away. And yet, that’s what many of us do. Fighting against our fears just keeps us focused on them. Ignoring or denying our fears creates a mental and emotional void. Since nature abhors a vacuum, our best practice is replacing fear with something more powerful: Love.
Love comes in many forms: Kindness to ourselves and others. Compassion for other living creatures and for the planet itself. Forgiveness. Gratitude for…everything. Curiosity and creativity are wonderful forms of love which can fill the world with ingenuity and beauty. Courage is a form of love that helps us explore the unknown and discover new treasures.
When we use fear as a tool, we stay in fight or flight mode. We can replace those tools with healthy boundaries, instead. Healthy boundaries remind us which thoughts are okay, or not. We can place healthy boundaries around our self-talk and how we allow others to treat us. We can set boundaries around habits, actions and relationships.
We can replace fear with patience and persistence. Most great things come with time. Life’s greatest joy isn’t the destination, but the journey. As we pour our love into each day and each moment, we keep ourselves truly alive and we learn to thrive. There is something truly fulfilling about reaching for the stars and realizing our greatest potential. Replacing fear with love means immersing ourselves in some deeply meaningful purpose.
Loving our life means looking back and being able to say we did our best. We may have had impossible circumstances or difficult decisions. We may have struggled and doubted. But if we did our best and just a little better with each step we took, that is the greatest thing we can achieve in life. It helps to edit your story of life from the negative to the positive, e.g.: “Even though I was hurt in the past, I love myself enough to give my future a chance for great things!”
Manage Others’ Fears
Managing others’ fears does NOT mean enabling, bossing, controlling or giving in to others. It simply means that we all share this world. What we do affects others, and vice versa. When others are reacting out of fear, we have to be wiser and stronger than ever. It’s part of human nature to mirror back whatever energy is coming at us, so it can take extreme effort not to react in fear when those around us are. Managing others’ fears means acknowledging that their fears and emotions are theirs, not ours. We must stand strong in our right to peace, and continually process our emotions in healthy ways.
Managing others’ fears also means that there are many other responses to life. Rather than focusing on our problems, we can focus on the solution. Rather than giving in, we can roll up our sleeves. Rather than becoming jaded, we can hold on to hope. Again, life is not a solitary, isolated event. We share this life and this world. When others are feeling down, weak or afraid, we can be a strength for others. We can point out the positive. We can be a source of safety and healing.
When In Doubt, Be Kind
A life full of kindness is a life without regret. What greater purpose could there be in life than to fill the world with kindness? If you’re not sure about your life purpose or how to deal with fearful emotions, be kind. Keep being kind and the answers to your other problems will arise. Being kind to yourself will fill you with love. Being kind to others will remind you that the world doesn’t revolve around you, and give you the deep satisfaction of being of service to others.
To thrive in life, love your fears. Love the unknown. Love the mysteries and trials of life. Loving them doesn’t mean you want them to stay, necessarily. Loving life means you have the power to fill each moment with what you desire most.
I wish YOU all the love, grace, and kindness this world has to offer!