How often do you find yourself consciously facing your fears? In this day and age, I’d say probably not much at all. Being confined by fear is an interesting concept, especially when most of it is actually psychological.
I thought about writing on fear because I know how much I subconsciously try to avoid confronting it. There are a number of root causes to our current fears, which could either be biological, physiological, or due to traumatic experiences.
In today’s post, I’d like to dive into your fears. I’ll look at identifying the different causes of those fears, what we can do about them, and how to avoid being shut down by fear. This might be easier for some of you than it is for others, the point is to try and strengthen our psychological resilience to the horrors we often have to face.
What causes of fear?
“A potential for pain, or an unrecognizable event, causes fear. The amygdalae, organs in the limbic system, detect such possibilities and send the signals which generate the fear emotion, which sets off avoidance activities.”
We experience fear out of instinct to avoid pain or undesirable events. Our minds react to external stimuli (or even mental projections) to ensure that we do what is necessary to survive. So if we have to look at the biological aspect of it, the amygdalae are what cause the sensation of fear. But what events trigger the amygdalae to make us feel that way?
As I’ve alluded to before, there are several different causes behind fear. I’ll focus on 3 in this post specifically, just to touch on the topic at a high-level:
- Past trauma
Other causes of fear can include insecurity, overthinking, perfectionism, childhood events (linked to past trauma), and worrying about other people’s opinion to name a few.
On the topic of failure, I think that is one of the most common causes of fear. We are afraid of failing. We want to survive. We want to make it through. We want to succeed. We want to make ourselves and other people in our life proud. It would thus make sense that many of our underlying fears are deep-rooted in our intrinsic motive to avoid failure.
Past trauma is another incredibly important and often undetected cause of fear. When we experience a traumatic event (such as being robbed or getting into a car accident), it often leaves a mark on our psyche. We become a lot more careful, vigilant and even suspicious of the world. We try to avoid getting into that same scenario again, as best as we can.
The last cause of fear that I’ll touch on is that of evolution. We were once hunter gatherers and stayed in very close-knitted groups. We needed to survive off the savannah and ensure the tribe was safe from all forms of danger. The issue is, many of the underlying fears that enabled us to cope with the dangers at that time, stay with us up until today. Fearing snakes, the dark, spiders etc., are often rooted in ancestral times.
Tee figure above shows different levels of intensity when it comes to experiencing fear. Apart from just identifying the causes, we should also look at how intense the feeling is. What I’d like to do now is use the mentioned causes of fear to help us figure out what to do about it.
What to do about fear
So what should we do about fear when it does arise? The first answer is the obvious one; accept it. We often try to hide behind this façade of bravery. We like to appear to be fearless and full of courage. It often comes at the expense of being true to ourselves.
Instead of trying to appear to be strong and brave, what’s even more courageous is learning to accept certain fears and working towards overcoming them. True bravery (in my opinion) is about persistence and trying your best to learn from those underlying fears.
After we accept that they’re there, we need to methodically try to overcome them. It won’t just happen overnight. We can’t expect to find an instantaneous answer. Exposure therapy is something that often works really well in this case. Slowly expose yourself to that which makes you afraid (in bearable doses). Then increase the intensity of the exposure as you get more and more used to it.
Those are things that are very situation specific, but are there ways that will allow us to develop a resilience to fear in general? How can we learn to fight that voice in our head and push forward, despite wanting to sit back and stay in our comfort zone?
How to stop letting fear hold you back
From my perspective, it’s about having faith and building up courage. It can surprisingly also boil down to purpose. When we have a strong foundational belief and understand that everything happens for a reason, we tend to be a lot more resilient.
From an Islamic point of view, the following quote resonates a lot with me:
It’s a fundamental belief that God is always with us, irrespective of how dreadful the scenario may be. Keeping that world view in mind allows me to push through many of my fears and setbacks in general.
When it comes to developing resilience to fear in general, what we need to focus on is essentially building a set of habits that allow us to face ‘baby’ fears all the time. A common example of this is cold showers. It’s petrifying and scary as hell. But doing it consistently allows your mind to practice overcoming the mental hurdle.
Next time there’s something that makes you really nervous or that you’re a little scared to do, just go for it and see the difference it can make. You’ll be a lot more ambitious in your goals and you won’t let trivial trials hold you back.
The point I’m trying to make from this post is that you’re capable. The more you put yourself out there and face you fears, the stronger you become. That strength can then diffuse into all other aspects of your life and will enable you to grow exponentially. We don’t realize how much of our potential is blocked purely because of our misconceptions and fears.
Face Everything And Rise.