We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Montaigne (16c. French philosopher)
This area will highlight the meaning and purpose of both fear and courage, and will suggest some interventions that may help you be more in charge in this respect. Let’s start by considering when fear is useful and when it is not.
Fear and its purpose
Fear can play a valuable role in deterring us from engaging in potentially damaging situations and actions – without it we would easily become reckless. Fear also increases our chances of dealing with dangerous situations, as it provides extra energy. However, in the complex world we live in fear can be unhelpful, for example, when it is misplaced – this happens when we wrongly associate some situations with a physical danger. For this reason, it is important to separate realistic and unrealistic fears. Fear can also be an impediment or even make things worse when it is exaggerated or out of control (e.g. you jump out of the bath because you’ve seen a spider, slip on the wet floor, and break your leg). So let’s look first at how we can deal with fear reactions.
Dealing with fear reactions
The feeling of fear may trigger a number of emotional reactions such as freezing, trembling, ‘jelly legs’, wanting to scream, hide, or run away, or feeling like fainting. These reactions are not pleasant and furthermore, they may be embarrassing if they happen in social situations. For this reason some people develop fear of fear – or fear of their own reactions. So let’s make it clear that you are not going to die from them; you do, in fact, have much greater control over these reactions than you think (one in four people have fear of flying – how many of them have you seen losing control during a flight?). Even if you do react, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. So, best you can do in such situations is not feed fear further by fearing your possible reactions (‘I will make a fool of myself’, ‘Something horrible will happen!’, ‘I am going to have a heart attack!’). By fearing them you are making more likely to have such reactions. Remind yourself that it is normal to feel an urge to react when you experience fear but that this urge is not necessary right now and won’t help – so you can relax. After a while it will pass. In case this is not enough, imagine that somebody else is in your situation; what would you say or do to help them? Once you have some control over
your reactions you may dig a bit deeper and look for the cause.