It was Franklin D Roosevelt who said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was trying to bring calm to a difficult situation where citizens were worried about the country’s economy, so they were taking their money away from the banks. It’s easy understand why he pointed out the fear of fear in that situation, but how does it affect our everyday life?
We must be careful here, because extreme fear is a phobia, but there is also a condition called phobophobia. This is the fear of phobias and the feelings that accompany them. Being fearful of something is easy enough to understand, but fearing fear itself is far more complex.
Most of us have experienced a panic attack at least once in our life. It’s unpleasant and scary, particularly because it’s often difficult to pinpoint what has caused it. Stress or experiencing a traumatic event are common causes, but if you don’t know why you’re feeling fear, it’s natural to fear having that feeling.
Why We Feel Fear
Fear isn’t a bad thing, in fact in many ways it’s good. That might sound a little strange, but the reality is, that feeling fear is designed to protect us. It goes back to basic instincts, fear gives us the fight or flight options. We can either fight what it is that has caused the fear, or we can run away from it.
If you suddenly find yourself face to face with a lion, what do you do, fight or flight? Probably neither, because in an extreme situation such as that you’d become panic stricken and unable to move. Freezing in this way is natural because it gives a few moments to decide what to do for the best. The fight or flight situation is using our mind to help us take action to avoid getting hurt.
Although feeling fear isn’t pleasant at all, if we can see it as a protection mechanism, that may help to alleviate us of feeling the fear of fear itself. The real problem arises when the fear we feel isn’t our own, if it’s been learned from someone else. In this situation, it’s often not a relevant fear, so offers no protection, but damage instead.
Taking on Another Person’s Fear
I remember when I was very young, getting stuck in an elevator with my mum. We weren’t stuck really, she just couldn’t work out which button to push, so we started going up and down the elevator lift shaft. This caused my mum to panic, she started scream and shout for help and I can remember being overcome by what felt like a total fear that I was going to die. I cowered in one corner on the floor of the lift, crying hysterically.
We eventually arrived at the correct floor and continued on our way. Although we hadn’t been in any danger, I had felt my mum’s panic, which caused me to do the same. Even today, I still feel apprehension when I step into an elevator. That’s crazy, because I know that feeling has nothing to do with what’s happening now, but to something which happened years ago, and it wasn’t even caused by me!
I know I’m hesitant of using an elevator because of my mum’s fear, not mine. This type of fear can be very restrictive and not helpful at all. Look at any that you may have and see if you can find out where they came from. Knowing the answer won’t make it go away, but it will help you to see it as less important and not relevant to now.
Overcoming the Fear of Fear
Often, the fear you feel isn’t about what’s in front of you, but the fear of the feeling it gives you. In other words, you’re fearing the fear. This means you’re not really fearing what’s in the real world, but what’s in your mind. Your mind can’t tell whether these thoughts are real or not, so treats them as if they are real. Rather than concentrating on a fearful situation, you’re concentrating on fearful thoughts.
You can control your thoughts, although it isn’t easy to do so. The fear is caused by worrying thoughts, which cause anxiety, and this results in the fear. Unfortunately, the resulting fear prompts more worrying thoughts and so the circle goes on. Taking control of your thoughts is the way to break the circle.
You know that thoughts become things, so that’s where you focus should be. Use your imagination to see the fear as ridiculous or irrelevant. Blow it up out of proportion in your mind, so it seems stupid, or imagine an exact opposite situation. It takes practice, but you’re diverting your thoughts away from the fear and when you don’t think about it, it’s not there! You might also want to observe your thoughts as this puts you outside of them, so you can make a better judgement on them.
Feel the Fear
As mentioned in a previous article, Susan Jeffers in her wonderful book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, explains how fear is only one of our emotions and it’s natural to feel it. When we do so, we’re facing it and it can’t hold us back if we don’t want it to.
She also talks about fear being born out of uncertainty, mostly about our ability to handle things. If you work on trusting your own ability, it can make fear have less of an effect.
It’s all about taking action, rather than allowing the fear to control you. Susan’s five truths about fear are worth reading because they point out realities to help you get past it. To feel the fear is a step towards halting the fear of fear and it’s a mighty step, but worthwhile one to take.