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Embracing Fear: A Mindful Journey to Liberation

Updated: May 5


As a disclaimer, EnvisionCo Blog is reader-supported. Some links on this site are for additional informational purposes whereas some others are affiliate links (don't worry, these will be clearly marked as such). When you click through an affiliate link on our site and sign-up for a service or finalize a purchase, we may earn affiliate commissions. This of course is at no additional cost to you. Additionally, EnvisionCo Blog is for informational and educational purposes only and is in no way intended to be a substitute for therapy by a trained mental health professional.


Almost everyone has something he or she really fears. There are even some of us out there with more than one specific phobia. Fear is one of the main challenges we have to overcome if we aim to live a more emotionally balanced life. The thing is a world without fears isn't as desirable as we may think. Fear is an emotion, an innate response ingrained in our psyche. Though a normal human response, it shows up differently for each person. Some of us are activated by what we would call universal triggers like the threat of physical harm, fear of loss of control, or betrayal or violation of trust. While some others are activated by triggers unique and personal to us like the fear of snakes, rats, spiders, cockroaches, bad weather, etc. As much as we may dislike it, fear is nature's gift to secure survival. Because of fear, we have been better equipped to deal with predators and other environmental pressures throughout our human history. Fear helps us to recognize threats and prepare to deal with them whether it be by standing up to it (fight), running from it (fleeing), or not doing anything at all (freezing). In this article, we will explore the nature of fear, its effect on our lives, and mindfulness strategies for conquering it.



The Nature of Fear

As mentioned in the outset, fear is an innate response, rooted in the instinct for self-preservation. Our brain and body have a unique mechanism to experience fear and react to it. Our bodies respond with a whole cascade of reactions. The amygdala is a tiny alarm center in our brains that detects risks in our environment then sends chemical and electrical messages to produce a state of hyperarousal. This hyperarousal puts us in the position to fight when necessary, flee when necessary, and freeze when necessary. This process happens automatically with little to no forethought or planning. In this context, fear can serve as both a protector and hindrance. What do I mean? Well fear can alert us to impending danger and the automatic responses of our bodies enable us to act which can be life-saving in threatening situations. However, fear can also paralyze us from participating in different activities thus preventing our growth and progress.



Fear and the Everyday Person

Our fear reactions are hardwired in our brains and are responsible for moving us to safety in the event of danger. When our amygdala begins sounding the alarm, a series of physiological changes occurs. One may experience a rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, heightened emotions, heightened senses, elevated blood pressure, and sweating. This is appropriate and healthy when it helps us get to safety or when it occasionally occurs to help us deal with specific challenges. It becomes maladaptive and paralyzing when such a response occurs to the more mundane everyday things in life (speaking in public, taking an exam, seeing a spider, leaving our home, being in public/crowds of people). When this increased state occurs repeatedly over time, we may begin drifting towards cultivating an anxious mood which instead of lasting a few minutes like a traditional fear response cycle, the anxious mood lasts hours or days. Once anxiety becomes a part of our normal experience, we begin to miss the fact that our lives are being lived from a mind dominated by fear. It can prevent us from pursuing our dreams, trying new experiences, or reaching our full potential. We begin avoiding things, avoiding places, avoiding people. Left unchecked, fear can lead to stagnation and regret, robbing us of opportunities for growth and fulfillment.


Fear Recovery Takes Time

In our article, "Frenemies No More: Mindfully Extinguish the Flames of Anger," we explored the concept of a refractory period for anger. The same is true for fear. Once the fear system is activated, we cannot simply bypass it or make it stop at the drop of a dime. When our fears are activated, it is difficult if not impossible to feel or think about anything else other than the fear. It's common to fixate on the feeling, the fear. We lose sight of it being a state that will arise and pass like any other thought or emotion. The body takes about 20 minutes to return to normal after a full fight or flight response. However, unlike with the anger cycle, we can begin infusing some mindfulness in at any point in the fear reaction thus removing fuel from the blazing fire of fear.



Cradling Our Fears with Mindfulness

Fear is a part of our biology. This does not mean that we are helpless to our fears. We just have to be mindful of how we relate to our fears. With the fear response, we have increased alertness. With mindfulness, we are able to begin to identify our larger field of awareness. Though the fast heartbeat may still be there. The muscle tension may still be there. Even the scary thoughts may still flutter into our minds. However, when we cradle our fears through mindfulness practice, we offer warmth, we offer acceptance, we offer patience. It is so tempting to reject or deny our experience. However, this is not the correct course of action. We have to understand that it is natural to feel scared. When we show ourselves kindness, or self-compassion, we begin to soften our self-judgment or self-criticism over our fear response.

Using mindfulness in this self-loving, non-judgmental way enables us to respond rather than react to our fears. When we turn towards our fears, labeling each sensation, we avoid getting lost in the story thus intensifying the blaze of the cycle of thoughts and emotions. From the moment our fear gets triggered, we can observe what is happening inside and outside of our body without automatically trying to interpret or judge what is going on. Now fear and worry do not ever completely go away, but using this technique can certainly go a long way in enabling us to reduce the level of physiological and emotional arousal.


Cradle Your Fear Mindfulness Meditation

Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable space where you can sit or lie down in a relaxed posture. Close your eyes gently. Check in with your body, feeling the places where it makes contact with either the chair or floor.

Take a few deep breaths, completely filling your chest with air then completely releasing the breath. Bring your attention to the sensation of your breath as it enters and leaves your body, using it as an anchor to ground yourself in the here and now.

Think back to a relatively recent time when you were scared. Start with something small; you don't need to choose your worst fear episode. Stay within your safe zone. Envision in your mind's eye what happened. Fill in the scene in your mind only enough to exaggerate the feelings in your body.

Often other emotions come up when remembering a fear episode. It could be anger. It could be disgust. If this happens, gently acknowledge their presence and ask that they step aside while you stay in contact with the feeling of fear. You can even let them know that you aren't going to try to change the fear or direct it to stop doing its job. You are just going to sit with it.

What types of sensations do you feel? Is there any tightness? Heat? Cold? Pressure? Tension? Where in your body are you feeling them? You may be tempted to try to push away the feelings; but try to stay with the feelings as best you can. We are only here to observe. What details do you see in the scene? Observe how it feels in your body, observe what thoughts are evoked, without getting carried away.

Now practice bringing compassion to the fear. This feeling is a normal part of being human. We all experience it at times. See if you can cradle and embrace your own fear much like a loving mother would embrace her child. It is so easy for us adults to condemn the feeling of fear as weak. Today I ask you to think about what it is you truly need when you are afraid and offer that to yourself. Offer yourself compassion, tenderness, and care.

When you feel ready, say goodbye to this feeling. Slowly and gently bring your attention back to your breath and stay with it for a while. This will help give your emotions time to settle into the spaciousness of your breath and awareness.

Notice the sensations of your body, the sounds around you, and the feeling of the ground beneath you. Take a few more deep breaths, and when you're ready, gently open your eyes.

If you are a returning reader, I imagine you are used to the exercises being a little different. If you are new here and have not tried mindfulness before, that was probably unusual for you. Very few times in our lives do we just sit with ourselves or sit with our feelings in this manner. Remember that mindfulness meditation is a practice, and it's okay if your mind wanders or if you find it scary or challenging to work with your fear at times. With patience and persistence, you can cultivate greater awareness and acceptance of your emotions, leading to a deeper sense of peace and well-being. You can download the Cradle Your Fear Mindfulness Meditation in the EnvisionCo Store to reflect on your insights. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below if you feel comfortable doing so.


Word of caution. If you find that it is challenging when you try the meditation, please know that this is okay and don't try to force it. As I tell my clients, all feelings are valid. If you have difficulty with any other emotions that show up (i.e. disgust or anger) refusing to step aside, this okay. Never would we want to barge past our defenses. This may be an indicator to try this meditation another day or more importantly elicit the help of a trained mental health provider as there may be a deeper issue or concern lurking beneath the surface. And no matter how much I may wish it to be a fix-all, the truth is this blog is for informational purposes only and is in no way a substitute for psychotherapy. So, if you have a history of mental illness, if you know or even sense that there are some intense feelings hiding due to a history of trauma, do not try this exercise. Reading about it yes but trying it, no. Please seek out a therapist local to your area.


Help is a click away.

 If you are interested in locating a therapist local to your area, please visit Find a Therapist, Psychologist, Counselor - Psychology Today. Often times, there are providers in your locale that provide in person counseling/therapy sessions. If there are no providers within a 30-50 mile radius to you, do not give up. Some providers in your state offer virtual sessions. If you are in immediate crisis, please contact the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

In this article, we familiarized ourselves with fear-the nature of it, its effect on our lives, and mindfulness strategies for conquering it. An innate part of our makeup, fear is undeniably an emotion that can be challenging to confront. Deeply ingrained in our primal instincts, fear often influences our thoughts and feelings. When left unchecked, it can have detrimental effects on our well-being and relationships, leading to avoidance behaviors, emotional distress, and even physical symptoms. This article has sought to encourage approaching fear with curiosity and compassion rather than aversion and avoidance. The only way to deal with the monster in the closet is by turning on the light and facing the inside of the closet (hey no monsters!). The only way to overcome fear is to face it head on with awareness, compassion, and caring. Please remember that wherever you are on this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.


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"Fear has two meanings: 'Forget Everything And Run' or 'Face Everything And Rise.' The choice is yours." ~Zig Ziglar

 

Here at EnvisionCo Blog, we try to keep ads to a minimum making our blog entirely reader-supported. We may feature links on this site for additional informational purposes. From time to time, we may feature other links which are affiliate links (and these will be clearly marked). When you click through an affiliate link on our site and sign up for a service or finalize a purchase, we may earn affiliate commissions. This is of course at no additional cost to you. However, if you like what you see and would like to make a donation to help us keep ads to a minimum, we would greatly appreciate it! Nothing fancy. We accept the price of a cup coffee with as much gratitude as we would the price of a tank of gas!


2 comentarios


Well, this one might be aimed right at me in ways. That being said I might not try the practice just yet because I might not be in the right headspace just yet! I love that you gave a warning to not try if there is anything to intense or past trauma going on that might need a better approach for help first! Another nicely done, informative post! Thank you!

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I appreciate your honesty and openness. It's important to prioritize your mental well-being and only engage in practices like this when you feel ready and in the right headspace. Taking care of yourself is crucial, and I'm glad the warning resonated with you. If and when you're ready, the practice will be here for you. Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts.

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