Acting In Spite Of Fear

Mar 6, 2021

Elizabeth Houghton

Sutton Full Potential Founder

Are you afraid of the future, worry yourself about potential catastrophes? You are not alone. Most people are anxious about possible life circumstances and stress themselves about situations not under their control. Doubt is an incredibly human trait, and you will find that far from being the only one, you are one among many people who struggle to allay their fears and apprehensions. However, we should never let fear be a deterrent or determinant in our lives.

We often experience fear when we find ourselves on the precipice of great change. Fear of the ‘uncertain’ can be extremely immobilizing. It stems from the inability to have a semblance of control. As humans, we always feel the need to place ourselves in controlled environments, which make us feel safe and secure. We seek out stability and comfort. Consequently, when we find ourselves facing situations we haven’t foreseen, we begin to panic.

We will use this article to learn all we can about the fear response, why it occurs, how it can be helpful, and yet, why we need to keep moving or taking action in spite of it sometimes.

The psychology of fear

Fear is among the primary set of emotions experienced by humans. It is a primitive response that helped our ancestors sense out danger and act in self-preservation. When we experience fear, we register a biochemical response in our body, as well as an emotional response that is highly subjective in how it manifests. We look at both responses in detail below.

We can be afraid of imagined dangers just as severely as we might fear actual threats. When an individual is subject to an excessively high level of or frequent fear responses without any significant object/event that this fear could be attributed to, their fear response is believed to be disproportional and pathologized. Several mental health disorders such as Anxiety and Panic disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and phobias stem from and are caused by irrational fear.

The biochemical aspect of fear is intrinsically tied to our innate Fight or Flight response. As already discussed, fear is a survival mechanism. When met with a possible threat, our body readies itself to either engage in combat or make a speedy exit from the situation that is making us fearful. The biochemical response associated with fear is a natural result of evolutionary function. It is intended to help us avoid threats as much as possible and help along with the survival of our race. Common physical responses to the fear experience are – alertness, exaggerated sweating, and a faster heart rate.

When it comes to our emotional experience of fear, however, there is no universal reaction. It is highly personalized. Our response to fear is just as individualistic as our response to positive emotions like excitement and happiness. Some people identify themselves as adrenaline-junkies, seeking out fear-inducing activities proactively. Others try to avoid fear at all costs.

Fear as pathology

Excessive and irrational fear can lead to the development of various anxiety disorders. Some of the anxiety disorders characterized by fear are

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Any Specific Phobia

How to overcome fear

It is possible to overcome your fear by learning helpful coping strategies for your daily life, which encourages you to act despite fear. It is also possible to supersede any fear you experience by certain effective treatment procedures. For instance, you could introduce yourself to a fearful situation consciously in a repeated manner. The repeated exposure to the same would breed a sense of familiarity, which would, in turn, minimize your fear response.

Often, therapists use the following two treatment modules to help patients suffering from a heightened fear response/phobia:

  • Flooding – Flooding takes a radical approach to desensitizing a person from reacting to their object of fear. Flooding perceives all phobias to be learned behavior that necessitates unlearning. Under this technique, you are exposed to a vast proportion of your fear triggers. So, if you are fearful of an object, you are exposed to an abundance of this same object. If a situation frightens you, you are subjected to the same, now curated in a controlled environment, in an attempt to allow you to overcome your fear. Flooding is used to help individuals confront the actual causation behind their fear response than getting swayed by the experience of fear itself. The objective is to allow you to understand that your fear can be overcome only if you are ready to challenge it. Denying your fear or always delaying confrontation will not help you drive it away.
  • Systemic desensitization – Systemic desensitization believes in practicing a gradual exposure to your fear trigger. For example, if you fear clowns, you will first spend time with your therapist and discuss your fear of clowns. Next, you will be made to look at photos of clowns. Finally, you will be introduced to a live clown. As you proceed through the different stages of systemic desensitization, you are also equipped with coping skills to help you manage your fears better.

Coping mechanisms you can practice to manage your fear response better in your daily life

You can try to manage your physical, emotional, and behavioural response to fear in the following manner:

  • By being mindful – Mindfulness asks you to live in the present moment and let go of past anxieties and future worries. When you practice mindfulness, you are able to be more in tune with your mind and body. If you can familiarize yourself with your physical fear responses, you can take active steps in trying to relax your body the moment you register these signs showing up. Similarly, when you notice that you are beginning to think stressful thoughts, you can try to distract yourself from the same and limit your experience of fear.
  • By reaching out to others – Social support is integral to managing any negative emotions that you might experience in your lifetime. Having supportive friends and family you can rely on is indispensable to battling fear.
  • By trying out stress-management techniques – Stress-management techniques such as visualization, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are overwhelmingly effective when trying to alleviate/reduce your fear.
  • By trying to maintain good health – Adequately hydrating yourself and getting ample rest/recovery time is paramount to dealing well with the experience of fear/anxiety. Similarly, eating a healthy diet and keeping physically fit are also helpful when practicing inner calm.
  • By breathing right – Controlling our breath has many advantages, both physical and mental. Helping allay our fear is one of them. Practice taking deep long breaths to relax your mind and body. You will automatically notice how doing so equips you better to deal with a fearful situation.
  • By checking yourself from talking yourself down – If you find yourself fearful of an upcoming event, remind yourself of events in the past where you had charged forward obstinately despite potential drawbacks and succeeded. Talking yourself down only makes you more critical about yourself and plants self-doubt where there was none. Be confident in your abilities and look at failures as learning opportunities; you will feel more ready to take on life’s uncertainties.
  • By laying out a plan – It is natural to feel anxious and afraid of novel situations. For example, if you plan to participate in a stage event for the first time in your life, you will most naturally feel nervous and scared. However, this fear and nervousness is only a result of your unfamiliarity with such an event. You are fearful that you don’t have a history of past behaviour aligned to your future actions from where you can derive learning and know-how. While this might be true, you can make lists and plan out your behaviour on stage strategically after conducting adequate research to make yourself familiar with audience expectations ahead of your scheduled performance.
  • By self-reflecting – Spend some time going through your memories. You must have participated in unfamiliar events and met with objects that you weren’t aware of in the past. Did it always incur a fear response in you? If the answer is no, what are the factors that seem to be present every time you register a fear response for yourself? Self-reflection can help you identify your sources of fear and rationalize your fear response so that fear is only one of the several negative emotions you experience – no more.

How can you train yourself to act despite fear rather than because of it?

If we let ourselves be driven to our actions and behaviour because of fear, we put our fear in control. Nothing could be unhealthier. A better approach to your fear response is to try to get to its roots, understand it, and then find ways to cope with it. We must recognize fear as the strong primal emotion that it is. We cannot deny ourselves the experience of fear. However, what we can successfully do is acknowledge it and learn to live with it in a way that fear does not override our happiness or health.

Learn to listen to your fears. If you are afraid about something, it is probably because you hold significant value for it in your life. You are insecure about losing it and want to do your best to hold on to it. Why not use this recognition to empower you rather than treat it as a chink in your armour? Thanks to your fear, you now know that you prioritize so-and-so above another.

A positive mindset will help you tackle your experience of fear. If you fear failure, you must tell yourself that failure is inevitable. Everybody fails at some or the other point in their lives. Does this mean that they give up on their goals and ambitions? No. They only strive for it harder, and so should you. Trust in your qualities and make peace with yourself about the things you have no control over. It will help you manage your expectations better and allow you to approach even seemingly insurmountable challenges with healthy confidence and vigour. If you fail, you only received another opportunity to improve yourself and set yourself up for success at another time.

Acknowledge your fear and relinquish control

It does not do any good to sweep your fear triggers under the blanket and try to put up a brave front when you are actually struggling with fear and stress. Instead, embrace your fears and be open and honest about them. Look fear in the face. Only then will you be able to fight it away. It is also healthy to acknowledge that we, as humans, do not always have control over our environment. A lot of our fear response stems from our desire for constant control. The moment we accept the truth of our condition, we begin to let go of our fears; we are able to act in spite of it.

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