The Fear Factor
“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
This week we want to explore fear and bring you attention back to mindfulness and activities, including meditation, visualisations and exercises that encourage us to live wholly in the present moment.
Eckart Tolle states that fear arises as soon as we leave the present moment and he is right. The whole world is fearful right now looking towards the conflict in Ukraine and mainstream media is currently consumed by it. Prior to this, Covid terrified us and before that, conflict in Afghanistan. Fear gets our attention. Consequently it sells stories and so will always be current.
The future is unknown, uncertain and that does make it feel frightening. The human survival instinct drives us to prepare ourselves for the worst and this makes sense; explore all the options and have contingency plans and disaster protocols to hand. This aids our potential to survive but it prevents us from thriving.
Our bodies are wonderfully complex; they collect and analyse countless pieces of information from our environment and have multiple feedback mechanisms that are innate, meaning we do not consciously control them. They are running in the background; they are automatic and they keep us alive. When an external event threatens us, our body will automatically respond. Adrenaline and cortisol are released. This results in an elevation of our heart rate and blood pressure and a down-regulation in the gut. Our body prepares for fight or flight.
When we imagine a future threat (and let’s be honest we can get pretty imaginative sometimes - an unusual noise becomes an intruder, a new symptom becomes terminal cancer), our automatic survival instincts will immediately kick in; will we fight or flee?
When we remember past stressful events, negative emotions such as shame, regret, anger, guilt and feelings of failure are common. Memory research suggests that we remember and recall stressful incidents more readily than day-to-day events and when we do so, the same fight-flight responses are triggered.
Sometimes we may choose to recall happy memories, and these are pleasant rather than stressful. These kinds of memories can be helpful when someone is dealing with loss however, living in the past means that we are at risk of missing what is happening right now. Opportunities may well be missed if we dwell in the comfort of a pleasant past.
The more time we spend engaged in thinking about events past or future that threaten us, the more fearful we are and the more prolonged the exposure to the fight-flight stress hormones. Persistently raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol leads to stomach pains and erratic bowel habits, headaches, poor sleep, chest pain, palpitations and impaired memory and cognition. You may have experienced such symptoms, the sick feeling in the pit of stomach, chest tightness, breathlessness, and a feeling of helplessness.
There is another way - Stop surviving and thrive.
If you have fearful thoughts or notice those body sensations associated with fear:
press pause and breathe. Deep breathing exercises will help switch off the fight-flight response.
Evaluate the threat consciously. What is the impact of this situation right now? When you bring yourself into the present moment you will usually find that there is no threat at all.
Ask yourself whether what you are thinking about and focussing your attention on is useful. is it rational? Are there any lessons to be learned?
Let the thought go and observe the present moment. What is happening in your current environment right now? What can you see? What can you hear? What do you feel?
Take in the moment and just be.
How to rise has meditations, visualisations and practical exercises to help you live more mindfully all you have to do is make the conscious choice to do so!