We cannot stop fear by trying to control it with the mind
Think of the mind like the weather. Sometimes it’s calm and sometimes it’s stormy. Trying to escape from the fear is like running outside and trying to clear the storm with our hands. It’s completely impossible and yet this is what we try to do to overcome fear internally.
When we stop interfering with the weather (activity of the mind), we become less involved with it and the storm naturally settles back down on it’s own accord. What this mean is that trying to control how we feel will not go down well. I can speak from years and years of experience. I’ve spent the majority of my existence trying to manipulate how I feel by using my mind to control fear. It just doesn’t work.
Once we understand that the emotion of fear is designed to be an alarm system to keep us safe, we no longer have to run from it. All it takes is a shift in perspective. Once we start viewing fear with a different pair of glasses, we can start to let fear be a tool of empowerment. Instead of allowing fear to cripple us, we can allow ourselves to be grateful for it.
We can only temporarily create the illusion that we can control fear with the mind. But in reality we just can’t. Fear is activated without our conscious intervention. It happens deep down on the level of the subconscious. Whenever our senses gather information/data from our external environments, this then gets sent to the subconscious mind. If the subconscious perceives this data to be threatening, it will activate the fear response known as ‘fight or flight’. It happens without any conscious control. In the same way our foot hits the break pedal when there is a bird in the road. We don’t consciously think about doing this. It just happens.
This is why we consciously know it isn’t necessary to experience this much fear when there is nothing in our environments to be frightened of. On the other hand, when there is something deemed as a threat in our environment, then we know it’s appropriate to experience fear. When there is nothing threatening in our immediate environment, then we know that it’s not necessary to experience fear.
Why then, do we still experience fear if there is no immediate threat present in our environment? I believe it’s because we are keeping it alive through our mind. Something has triggered off the fear response and we are feeding it through our thoughts. Anything can trigger off the fear response if we perceive that something to be a threat to our existence. That includes our own thinking.
The subconscious can perceive anything to be threatening
It’s definitely possible for us to go into the fight or flight response if we perceive a troubling thought to be threatening. Even though we consciously know that no thought can ever be harmful, our subconscious doesn’t have the ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy.
Fear is not our enemy
When we perceive fear to be an enemy, we give away more of our power to it. The truth is that fear is NOT our enemy. It’s designed to keep us safe from threat. So how could something which is designed to keep us safe be an enemy? How could something like this be bad for us? It isn’t bad for us.
There’s an extremely high chance that me and you wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for fear. Fear is what has kept the human species alive long enough to get to where we are today. Just think how easy it would have been for a bigger predator to kill and eat us if we didn’t have our alarm bells ringing when we perceived a true threat in our environment. We wouldn’t experience fear if this wasn’t the case. Fear has no other purpose than to protect us from threat.
The more we try to control or stop fear with the mind, the more we get ourselves tangled up into a mental knot. The truth is that we don’t have to try and control fear. It’s a battle that cannot be won. All we can do is allow fear to settle back down to normal on it’s own accord. Instead of worrying about why we’re still experiencing fear when it’s not even necessary, we can shift our attention away from our thoughts and feelings about fear and focus on something else. Practising this will allow our brains to adopt new behaviours. Healthy behaviours. It’s a healthy habit to distract our thoughts because we cannot really reason with them. In my opinion focusing our consciousness onto something else other than our thoughts is the most effective approach.
The reason being because focusing on our thoughts doesn’t help us forget and move past the fear. We can’t get over something by focusing on it. It’s impossible. As we know, fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. What perceives something to be a threat? Our sensory organs send information back to our brains which in turn makes a decision on how to respond appropriately. In this case, if there is something that could potentially put our lives in danger, then we will respond with fear. If it is something funny, we will respond with laughter/happiness.
When the external threat has passed, what usually happens? We settle back down into emotional harmony. Because there is nothing in our external environment to be wary of, the brain gets the message to switch off the flight or fight response.
So what keeps the fear alive? Our thinking. How do we know this? Because when there is a wild animal in our immediate environment which poses as a threat, we automatically go into fight or flight, right? What happens when the external threat has passed? We calm back down and after a little while, our fear levels settle back down to normal. But why do we still feel fear even when there is nothing to be afraid of? Even when there is no external threat present in our immediate environment? Our imagination keeps it alive. And because our subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s not, it responds how it would to a real outside threat with the fear response.
So the only way we can actually allow our unnecessary fear levels to settle back down is to stop fusing with our thinking. How do we go about doing this? Well to come to the conclusion of what works most effectively, we can experiment in two ways. The first is by focusing more on the fear. By giving ourselves constant attention to the fear that we’re experiencing, can we allow it to settle back down? From my experience, this cannot happen. Why? Because by focusing on our fearful thoughts and feelings we are keeping it in place. We are in essence giving the fear more fuel. Whatever we focus on, we empower. What we need to do is take away the food the fear needs in order to survive.
Oh and by the way, acceptance of the fear doesn’t mean we focus on it. Focusing away from fear doesn’t necessarily mean we’re resisting it. While I completely agree with the notion that acceptance of our thinking and emotional states is really important to stopping inner conflict. I believe this is vital. However, I don’t believe that focusing our attention on the fear is helpful. It’s not going to make any difference apart from keeping us in a fearful state. What has really helped me is to practice acceptance of my fearful state whilst shifting my conscious attention onto something else. Something that engages the mind.
So for me this would be learning and playing songs on the guitar. Reading interesting non-fiction books or gripping novels. Writing on my blog. Listening to podcasts whilst exercising. Listening to music whilst playing Sudoku. Whenever my mind is stimulated, I feel completely harmonised and intellectually satisfied. Whenever my mind is not stimulated, I get bored, feel dis-harmonised and intellectually dissatisfied.
This is because our mind is constantly looking for food. Mental food that is. Whenever it doesn’t get that mental food, it gets hungry. And the boredom and disharmony we experience is the minds way of telling us we need to eat. My mind food is the activities I mentioned above only a moment ago. I definitely get enough mental stimulation from these things because that boredom and disharmony evaporates during and after the immersion in the activities I perceive to be fun and engaging.
Ignore the people that tell you focusing your mind away from your inner world of thoughts and feelings doesn’t work. It does work and very effectively over time. It’s dangerous advice when people say that using distraction is not a good strategy because that’s a lie. Of course, if you have a real external problem which you need to deal with then no, distraction won’t work. It might help you stop thinking less about the predicament, but ultimately it still needs to be resolved and we do this by taking action to bring about a better circumstance. Whatever that may be.
But the point is, pulling our attention away from our thoughts is the perfect tool to use. The more we focus on our thoughts, the more we are focusing on what we don’t want. So if for example we have a thought which makes us feel uncomfortable, constantly focusing our consciousness on this thought isn’t going to help us forget it. Our natural default setting is harmony. The mind and body have an intelligence of their own and work together in synergy to keep things in harmony. When we stop trying to control our thoughts, our mind finds it’s own way back to harmony. It self corrects if left alone long enough.
Focusing our consciousness away from our thoughts onto enjoyable and engaging activity just happens to speed up the self-correcting process of the mind.
Okay, so how do we know what works? I’m presuming that non-acceptance hasn’t worked for you… if it has then what I’ve just wrote isn’t going to be much use to you. So as an experiment, I would like you to practice acceptance and taking your attention away from the fear. Taking our attention away from the fear doesn’t necessarily mean we’re trying to run away from it. Like I keep mentioning, it’s really important that we accept the fear. Accepting the fear doesn’t mean we “observe” it or focus all of our energy on it. It just means not arguing with it or trying to change it. Observing or focusing on it is actually very counterproductive because whatever we give our focus on we experience more of. Let me write this another way. If we focus on fear, we will keep pouring more fuel onto the fire.
Make it a habit to stop fighting the fear. Allow it to be exactly as it is without wishing it were gone. This will have a calming effect. Do this as well as focusing your attention onto something you naturally enjoy doing. These things when practiced together will bring you back into emotional harmony much quicker and easier than anything else.