Real Fear (and, the Other Kind)
Real fear is familiar to everyone. It’s the body’s natural reaction to a threat. It’s the immediate and natural physical reaction to anything, or anyone, that threatens your life…
It’s what you feel when you slam on your brakes, swerve the wheel, and spin your automobile over into the ditch to avoid crashing into the idiot who just ran the red light through the intersection.
When your car comes to a stop, you feel your heart pounding in your chest, the palms of your heads wet and clammy with perspiration.
We know this kind of fear. It is good fear. Natural fear. It’s the body’s natural fight or flight response to real or, sometimes, imaginary threat.
You’ll experience this kind of fear from time to time and you should. It helps keep the human species alive.
It’s that “other” kind of fear that we don’t need so much of…the kind of fear we sometimes describe as anxiety, worry, fret, and stress. This kind of fear often goes unrecognized but may be the most damaging to our long-term health and happiness.
This kind of fear often manifests itself in nervousness, negativity, isolation, complaints, anger, and, sometimes, vengefulness. Road rage is often pent-up fear, unidentified and ill-expressed anxiety.
Who of us has not witnessed this lately? Or, found ourselves caught up in it?
Real Fear and How to Manage It
How do you better control this kind of fear? Worry? Anxiety?
1. Medication. Sometimes medication may be needed. But this should only ever be a temporary fix, as long-term use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors diminishes their effectiveness.
There are other things you and I may do…
2. Meditation. Studies have shown that the regular practice of meditation twice daily, twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes again in the evening, has the net effect of reducing anxiety and stress levels and balancing the mind and body connection. There are many studies, in fact, that suggest that meditation not only reduces stress levels but improves mental cognition and raises the level of happiness and contentment people feel with life.
Here are a few other methods I have found to be helpful in managing the “other” kind of fearfulness and anxiety that impacts all of us from time to time.
3. Name it. When you catch yourself feeling overwhelmed with fear or anxiety, be the observer – watch your thoughts, like watching a movie in a theatre. This puts a little separation between you and that which is causing your anxiety. This creates a space wherein stillness or peace may be found, even if only temporarily. As the observer of what is going on inside your head, see if you can name the anxiety. Where is it coming from? Is it real? Or, is it the conversation taking place inside your head – yourself talking to itself?
We all do this. It does not mean you’re going nuts. But it does mean you may need to be, as they say in eastern traditions, “the witnessing presence.”
4. Look around, too. Remember, it was Jesus, one of the greatest spiritual teachers of all time, who, as an antidote to fear, worry, anxiety, said…
25“Do not worry…26 Look at the birds in the sky. They do not plant seeds. They do not gather grain. They do not put grain into a building to keep. Yet your Father in heaven feeds them! Are you not more important than the birds? 27 Which of you can make himself a little taller by worrying? 28 Why should you worry about clothes? Think how the flowers grow. They do not work or make cloth. 29 But I tell you that Solomon in all his greatness was not dressed as well as one of these flowers. 30 God clothes the grass of the field. It lives today and is burned in the stove tomorrow. How much more will He give you clothes? You have so little faith! 31 Do not worry” (Matthew 6-25-33)
Antidote to Real Fear
Nobody intentionally chooses to worry.
But Jesus seems to suggest we DO have the capacity to choose something better. Maybe the key is in his final prescription/pronouncement…
“You have so little faith! Do not worry.”
“So little faith?”
How does one get more faith?
Go to church, temple, or synagogue more regularly?
Well, that might help, although I doubt that’s what Jesus had in mind.
Faith is trust. Trust is the capacity to let go…to stop trying to control everything.
So, this might be it. I’m not entirely sure but what I do know is that much of the angst I feel is neurotically nurtured as I mentally play out all scenarios I imagine happening – the theatre is inside my head and the drama plays out on a mental stage…thoughts that come with uncanny regularity.
And, all in some imaginary attempt to control what feels out-of-control. Which is mostly everything.
Faith, on the other hand, is learning (and I am learning this through practice) to let life alone…to allow life to unfold…to let go of the neurotic need to control everything.
The key to peace, therefore, may be in the adage: “Let Go…Let God!”
It’s worth a try. So, today, why not make this your practice? See what happens.
Maybe the Serenity Prayer holds in it’s simple words today (and, every day’s) most profound truth…
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and, wisdom…no trust…to know the difference.” – adaptation of the Serenity Prayer.