Fear is a natural emotion. We benefit from it as much as it limits us. The science behind fear is, to say the least, profound and complex. Fear will never desist to exist in our lives and therefore the only path we can take is to embrace it. And learn how fear helps and limits us and ultimately how to conquer it. We must learn the science behind fear so that we can begin to understand and take action on the critical role it plays in our lives.
Most of us go through our entire lives completely limited by fear. For most of us, an immense part of our lives is dictated by fear. We fail to take on opportunities and experience growth because we do not understand fear. We do not embrace it nor do we learn how to grow from it. Once fear is not a limitation and we become less dependent on its negative impact, then you will start to recognize an endless horizon of opportunities.
What Is Fear?
Fear is an emotion that starts with a stressful stimulus in the brain and ends with a chemical reaction in the body. In layman’s terms, fear is a reaction to something that our brain recognizes as a risk to our well-being. It is an induced feeling when danger is perceived.
Generally speaking, fear is not a human emotion but rather an emotion that is old as Earth itself. It affects all living beings and some more than others. Fear dictates when there is a perceived threat to an organism’s integrity or existence. And as mentioned in the beginning, hence why it is both natural emotion and a beneficial one as well. Having said that, fear at its core function is not necessarily a bad thing, quite the contrary.
What Happens To Our Brain?
Fear is triggered in our brains, more specifically in the Amygdala region, which causes a chemical chain reaction in our bodies to help us activate motor functions that initiate fight or flight. Other processes happen during this time that I will describe shortly, as well as other parts of the brain like the Hypothalamus that are triggered.
So let’s take a short deep dive. The Thalamus helps our brain decide where to send incoming sensory data, then the Sensory Cortex decodes that data. Next the Hippocampus stores and retrieves such data to determine the reality and context of the incoming data. This process happens in the Amygdala region for fear-specific emotions where those specific memories are stored and where those emotions are decoded. And lastly, a threat is determined based on those memories. Finally, the Hypothalamus activates the fight or flight response in our bodies.
How Fear Helps & Limits Us
Fear at its core function helps us. It exists to preserve our integrity and existence. It is that simple and not there is not much to it.
On the other hand, fear can deeply limit us. It can take possibilities from us, and effectively hindering our ability to learn, experience, and grow. When fear stops you from flying on an airplane, it directly robs you of the opportunity of seeing your family, friend, or that place you’ve dreamt of visiting. When the fear of failure stops you from building that business or project you are passionate about, you are effectively robbing yourself from taking action on your dreams. I can give you a thousand of these examples but you see the pattern here. When fear takes precedence over your desires and dreams, it takes away so much away from you without realizing it.
Is Your Life Dictated By Fear?
This is a question that will be unique and tailored to you. It is a question that will not be answered right away. Nor it should be a question to ask and move on but one that has to be constantly asked and revisited. The way I measure how much fear dictates my life is to be fully aware of how many things my present self would have been grateful to my past self for. What this means is how many times did fear take away from me possibilities where I could have learned something amazing, grow, and be a much better version of my current self.
We are constantly in auto-pilot mode without even realizing it. And the reason why I am bringing this to the table is that often, we dismiss those things we are afraid of in the pursuit of conformity and consistency. We rarely push out boundaries to explore deeper within us. We much rather have a life where risk, pain, and failure are less of a reality and we embrace the comfort and safety of day-to-day cemented routines.
How Do We Conquer Fear?
We face and embrace it. Period. I know it can sound rather simplified but the truth is that it is not. Conquering fear is a practice as well as a process and a journey. We must first find bliss in the emotion of fear, we must understand the illusion fear creates in our brain, and embrace fear as a part of us. Allan Watts once said “Do not be afraid of fear. Do not resist fear. When you allow yourself to be afraid then you truly begin to master fear.”
It is only when you allow yourself to be afraid and master your fears you inevitably learn how to grow from them. And you become more aware of the possibilities at the other end of the illusion of fear.