Fear is a Friend: Transform Fear to Create a Life You Love
Nov 02, 2015 10:08PM
● By Kim Morey Feeney
“Every time your fear is invited up, every time you recognize
it and smile at it, your fear will lose some of its strength.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Human beings are born with a spirit of power, immeasurable love and a longing for connectedness. The human spirit is a tremendous force, fully able to transcend the deepest and most profound challenges, one of the greatest of which is fear. Fear is a significant aspect of the human condition. While fear is an essential part of being human, we also share the fear response with the rest of the animal kingdom. It is a natural emotional response derived from experience that tells us “something is wrong,” thus eliciting particular behaviors that allow us to respond to the situation. By its nature, fear can be our friend. It is often an unpleasant feeling, but one that exists to protect us or, more accurately, help us to protect ourselves.
The emotion of fear has evolved with the times, and presently it manifests pervasively in the form of chronic anxiety, worry, tension and/or dread. Unfortunately, when we keep ourselves busy and distract ourselves from what’s going on inside our own heart and mind, the root of chronic anxiety or dread becomes increasingly unclear, making it more difficult to address.
Chronic anxiety, stress and tension have evolved into leading causes for health concerns across the world. When people remain in these prolonged states of fear for months and years, that fear has deep physiological and psychological effects that contribute to countless physical and mental health problems, including muscle tension, irregular heartbeat, headaches, sweating, dizziness, inability to focus or concentrate, nausea, nervous energy, fatigue, respiratory problems dry mouth, gastrointestinal problems, and interference with sleep, lifestyle habits and appetite. The presence of excessive stress hormones also has consequences, including digestive disorders, memory loss, heart disease, suppression of the immune system and depression. Any of these problems decreases quality of life, but they can also easily and quickly lead to greater physiological and psychological health problems.
Fear is a Friend
The effects of long-term fear on the body and mind jeopardize health and hinder quality of life, but they also present an opportunity to identify the areas of one’s life that need to be examined and explored. Fear sends a signal that something isn’t right in our immediate environment and, furthermore, that thing could be dangerous on some level.
It is the presence of the divine within the human spirit that empowers us to rise above the fear response. It is part of the depth and power of the human spirit to choose love over fear. Sometimes that means responding to your fear with love, allowing that fear to open you to the world of possibilities and potential for your own growth and development as a human being. The body and the mind will absolutely get your attention when there’s something in your environment that needs changing. If signals are ignored, the body and mind will yell louder until they have your attention.
We create our own suffering when we resist the signals that the body and mind are clearly and persistently sending to us; when we choose to do nothing, the fear worsens. When we recognize our body talking to us, the first thing we need to do is stop—then listen, or look or feel. It is no easy task to stop the endless activity that has become the normal way to be in the world; to willingly look and listen to what the body or mind or heart is telling us about our internal or external environment; to stop and look at what is working and what isn’t. Because when we stop and look at what’s there, we often recognize quickly there is something keeping us from living a life we love. And most often, it is something within our control to address.
That means the next step is to address the obstacle; but that means creating change. Many times that’s where we hesitate, because change means facing the fear keeping us in the same stressful habits. New fear is scarier than old fear. The preference then becomes to keep pushing on, without change, or using “quick fixes” that make us feel like at least something was done. We resist the message that our bodies sending so clearly: “Slow down! And, let’s fix this!” To reduce fear-based anxiety and its effects on health, happiness and wellbeing, it always starts with stopping and listening.
Do Anything. Start Anywhere.
Focus on what you can influence. Often, what creates the fear that keeps us from taking action is a sense of a loss of control. Rather than focus on what can’t be controlled and center one’s attention on what is absolutely beyond one’s reach, a better option is to focus on personal power and control. Begin making simple decisions that create positive change in your life. Prepare your lunches for the week. Go to a barre class. Clean the bathroom. Drink eight glasses of water throughout the day. Start reading the book collecting dust on your nightstand. Do something different that requires you to physically get up and move your body.
Stop procrastinating. Stop avoiding. Let fear be your friend, and let it serve you instead of stopping you. Face it and deal with it. Avoiding things out of fear always makes them worse, and prevents growth. The only way to make it go away and to reduce its power is to face it.
Connect with nature, with others, with yourself. When we have the support of others, we feel more confident and self-assured in addressing our issues, and we can be more objective about the challenges before us. Feeling alone intensifies feelings of fear. Taking time to be out in nature reduces feelings of anxiousness and increases feelings of calm, hope and appreciation of beauty. Looking up at the clouds in the sky, the colors of the trees and the stars at night, one feels connected to something much vaster and greater than ourselves. Being in nature creates profound positive emotional shifts.
Five-minute daily meditation. Taking a few minutes every day for mindfulness and meditation centers the emotions and can counter some of the physiological effects of stress and fear. It’s also a commitment to face yourself and your fears, which is not an easy decision to make, especially on an on-going basis. By committing yourself to be quiet for a few minutes on a daily basis, you willingly face your fears and create a spirited momentum that will naturally carry you forward in a brighter way, every day.
Get physical. Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in your brain that improve your mood. Creating an exercise routine provides another area of personal control onto which one can focus energy. Physical activity requires concentration, reducing time and energy for fear-based overthinking. The strengthening of the physical body and increase in endurance creates more comfort in one’s own body.
Surround yourself with beauty and positivity. When we are in a state of stress and fear, we tend to focus on the negative, sometimes unconsciously attempting to prepare ourselves to prevent a future negative outcome. If we focus on just observing or noticing the simple, positive things around us, we naturally create a habit of positivity. Surrounding oneself with beauty helps to generate the momentum of positivity in one’s path. Whether it be a lovely photo, an open window, wearing colors that make you feel good or fresh flowers around your home or office, these are all simple ways to bring more beauty into your environment, helping nurture a positive outlook.
In all its forms, fear is a shadowy reminder to each of us of our innate free will, potential for growth and evolution, and of the power we have as human beings to create lasting positive change on our individual paths and in the world around us.
Fear exists to be transcended and transformed, but is not an adversary; rather, fear can be a gorgeous opportunity to experience and understand the capacity of the human spirit for profound power and love.
Kim Morey Feeney is the founder and owner of Lantern House (LanternHouseLiving.com) in Wilton, a spiritual learning and healing center and gift shop. Feeney studied at the Union Theological Seminary of Columbia University, graduating with an masters in systematic theology. She is an intuitive consultant and spiritual director, and serves as a meditation facilitator at Lantern House and throughout Fairfield County.