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How To Deal With Fear

Fear can be ugly. It can come out of nowhere and hijack us in an instant. Its intensity can terrify and paralyze us. Fear can derail our lives and suck the vitality from our hearts.

On the flip side, fear can be a good thing. It can alert us to danger or an imminent threat. Fear can give us perspective and even save our lives.

The problem is most of us don't deal well with this frequent visitor. It can surprise us and invade quickly. Other times fear can be sneaky, flying under the radar, undetected, exerting its influence incognito. Over the long haul, it can take up residence in the heart and begin to exercise control over us. It can skew our vision and rule our decision-making.

Fear can be powerful

Here are some ways fear can display its power:
• It can produce anxiety, and even panic.
• It can make us irritable and more prone to anger.
• It can drive us to become workaholics, frantically trying to keep up with whomever we’re comparing ourselves to this week.
• It can turn us into subtle (or not so subtle) manipulators, desperately trying to keep bad stuff from happening.
• It can make us obsessive about almost anything, including our appearance, bodies, health, finances, or relationships.

Fear tends to focus us on the future and the unknown:
• We fear what will or might happen.
• We fear illness or disability.
• We fear aging and the losses that accompany it.
• We fear the loss of people and relationships.
• We fear the tough decisions we see looming ahead involving those we love.
• We fear death or the dying process.
• We fear being alone.

Over time, we can even begin to be afraid of fear itself.

Fear affects each of us differently

Some of us seem to battle fear more than others. The amount and intensity of the fear we deal with is due to a variety of factors:
• Our personal backgrounds.
Some were raised in steady, safe, and loving environments, while others suffered through abuse, neglect, danger, and dysfunction. Past difficulties, losses, and trauma can play a large role in how sensitive and prone we are to fear.
• Our mental and emotional make-up.
Each of us is unique. We have different personalities and preferences. Some are sensitive, while others are stoic or even callous. Some of our emotional wiring is related to life experience, while some seems to naturally be part of who we are regardless of circumstances.
• Our current life situation.
This includes our physical and mental health, age, financial situation, and relational support system. Our current circumstances can have great impact on our fear level.
• Our worldview.
How we see the world determines much of how we live. If we see ourselves as being in charge and in control (in the sense that we are responsible for everything that happens to and around us), chances are our fear and anxiety level will be high. Interestingly, fear also resides at the other end of the spectrum, where some of us see ourselves as helpless victims who lose no matter what.

Fear is a reflex. This world is full of triggers. When something pushes our buttons, there is an immediate emotional reflex of some kind. Reflexes are natural.

The goal isn’t to avoid fear altogether, but to meet it in a healthy and productive way. We may not be able to stop fear from coming, but we can decide how to respond after the initial reflex.

How to handle the fear that comes

Here are three suggestions:
1. Breathe deeply.
Breathing in deeply through the nose, and then out slowly through the mouth activates the parasympathetic nervous system and starts a calming effect. Breathing deeply and regularly naturally slows the mind and the emotions.
Fear can take over quickly, driving reactions and decisions you later regret. Pausing and breathing deeply can turn the tide in your favor.
2. Acknowledge and identify the fear.
As you are breathing deeply, acknowledge the fear. Simply stating out loud, "I feel afraid," or "I feel anxious," has remarkable power.
After you acknowledge the fear, identify it. "I'm afraid of what will happen in the future," "I'm frightened of what the doctor might say," or "I'm afraid for my children.”
Once exposed, fear loses some of its power.
3. Take action.
Once you acknowledge and identify the fear, take action. This might involve any number of things:
• Contact the loved one you're concerned about.
• Make a doctor's appointment to check out that new pain or concern.
• Share with someone you trust who will support you and can give perspective.
• Process your fear, thoughts, and emotions through writing in a journal.
• Make a counseling appointment when fear becomes chronic or debilitating.
• Get out of your own head and out of the house. Engage with the outside world.
Bad things take place. Tragedies occur. People leave. We hurt and struggle. These things are part of living in this challenging world.

Using Fear to Live Well

Fear is here to stay. Living well isn’t about trying to avoid it, but rather learning to live more in peace and less in fear over time.

When fear comes knocking, breathe deeply. Acknowledge it. Identify the fear, being as specific as you can. Then, take action.

Rather than letting it rule you, use fear to live well.

Gary Roe is an author, speaker, and chaplain with Hospice Brazos Valley. His latest book, Please Be Patient, I’m Grieving was just released and is available on Amazon and at Hospice Brazos Valley. Contact him at 979-821-2266, groe@hospicebrazosvalley.org or at www.garyroe.com