I used to think that fear was bad, surely this awful feeling can’t be a good thing for me?
When I feel fear I notice my back become tense, my stomach feels like it drops, sometimes my knees feel a little wobbly and my thoughts, well they just go a million miles an hour but those ones that shout out to me sound something like. ‘You can’t do this’ ‘something bad will happen’ ‘you can’t complete this course, this job etc etc’ ‘Don’t do it’!!
For a long time I did let this fear rule, I didn’t push myself forward, I thought this was a sign that something bad would happen. But as I look back now, I can’t help but think that this actually really held me back.
Fear is a normal response and feeling to many situations in life. My clients often come to therapy and it can take a long time to make a contact initially because they feel fear about making this really brave decision to start therapy.
There’s a lot of science and biology behind this.
The brain has this tiny almond shaped part called the amygdala. This is rather like our bodies alarm system. It scans our environment looking out for danger as its main aim is to keep us safe. It’s driven towards survival. When it spots danger the alarm goes off and our bodies get flooded with adrenaline. This is to prepare ourselves for survival and activate the fight, flight, freeze response so that we can survive. This is an old system that has helped us survive as a species. It goes way way back to the time of cave men when being confronted by a sabre toothed tiger was much more likely than it is now and our lives were under regular and intense threat.
How amazing is this, that our body has this automatic system that warns us of danger and not only that but prepares the body to survive that danger, pretty amazing isn’t it! But let’s face it we are no longer facing the same dangers that the cavemen got through, we are no longer regularly faced with a sabre toothed tiger.
Well it is amazing but what if the alarm system is too sensitive and is triggered too often, then it’s maybe not quite so good.
I see this a lot with the clients I work with. Somehow the system gets out of sync and becomes way too sensitive. In my experience this can often be because of past experiences. It kind of makes sense that if we have experienced something traumatic, overwhelming or adversive that it makes us fearful of it happening again. We will then become hyper vigilant and more sensitive to things in our environment (triggers) that make us feel unsafe.
So when we strip back the fear that I feel, it’s as if my amygdala has been triggered and the adreheneline is flooding my system to protect me. But really? When I am thinking of changing jobs or doing extra training does my body really need that level of adrenehline to fight it? Do I need that level of protection? No I don’t think I do. So what I have learnt is to take a step back, notice the feeling, thank my body for the warning but do things like breathing exercises, focus on my mindset, my ‘I can do this’ attitude, and reach towards my goals.
I now actually think that if this fear completely goes away that would be bad and mean I am not challenging myself enough. So it’s not the fear itself that’s the problem but the reaction we have to it, and we can learn to change this reaction.