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Why Facing Your Fears is Crucial: Science is Saying You Must.

0 Heart it! Caitlin Evans 33
October 29, 2018
Caitlin Evans
0 Heart it! 33

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. — Nelson Mandela

When was the last time you’ve climbed a tree? Probably when you were a kid. Why don’t you do it know when you know it is fun? Maybe you are afraid of heights or that people will think you are silly. This is just a random example, but it shows that we regularly allow our fears to control our lives.

People often misunderstand fear as something that needs to be annulled in order to achieve your dreams, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Fear rarely goes away, it is something you are facing with every morning you wake up and something you are going to bed with. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

What is fear and what it does to our brain?

Fear is a fundamental inherent reaction which is developed to protect us when we perceive a threat. In this form, fear is a capacity of every being on the planet. However, when it becomes more complex, such as existential anxiety, it is something typical for human beings.

Some of the main chemicals that create fear in our brain are also included in positive emotional states, such as excitement and happiness, so it makes sense that we sometimes associate the high arousal during a scare with enjoyable experiences (e.g., watching a horror film).

The fear reaction begins in the brain (amygdala) and spreads throughout the body making adjustments for the best protection or flight reaction.  This causes bodily changes which prepare us to be more effective in danger: the brain is hyper-alert, pupils dilated, heart rate fastened, blood flow increased, and breathing accelerated.

 

Science says you should face your fears – gradually

So, as you see, fear is natural and you can’t escape anything that is natural. However, you do need to face it, conquer it, and do what you need in spite of it.

According to the reputable Mayo Clinic, facing your fears is the most effective way of treating phobias. This is called “exposure therapy” and it involves changing your response to the object of fear by gradual, repeated exposure to what scares you. If you are, for example, afraid of elevators, this doesn’t mean instantly stepping into one but first imagining you are riding the elevator, then looking at photos of elevators, standing in front of one and observing it, taking a one-floor ride, and you will gradually get to the point of riding several floors.

There are two theories that might explain this: one, the new memories you are creating with the object of your fear are quieting down the old traumatic experience, and the other, the old-traumatic memories are rewritten with new experiences.

 

“I’m afraid, but I can do it”

While it can slow you down, fear doesn’t have to paralyze you. There is a personal story behind this. I always wanted to go rock climbing, but I’m irrationally terrified of heights. I’m no expert, but I tried my own version of exposure therapy. I’ve imagined myself on the cliffs, watched photos and movies of this activity, read rock climbing tips for beginners to prepare for the experience, and climbed small hills until I finally decided that I’m ready to get up there. It took me some time, but I was on top of the world, and it felt awesome.

It is a process, which requires going through many negative things which might have contributed to the creation of the phobia, imagining possible outcomes, and dealing with things you would rather set aside. Unpleasant as it may be, this process leads to “I can handle it” conclusion, and eventually, to allowing yourself to go forward in spite of being afraid.

When you start doing the things that scare you the most you are tearing down the barriers which separate you from a happy full life. There is nothing stopping you from being the person you want to be. You can’t completely destroy fear, it will always be around to whisper or scream to you what you can and what you can’t do. But you can make your voice louder, and tell yourself “Yes, I can”.

 

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