“Most fear is based on a mental projection of what might happen in the future. Is there anything to fear right now, in this moment?”
In this time of great change and uncertainty, fear and anxiety are running high in many people.
Fear of catching the virus, fear of financial hardship, fear of running out of essential supplies or plain fear of the unknown—fear for fear’s sake.
And the apocalyptic reports streamed daily into living rooms around the world do little to calm matters.
But here’s the thing with fear.
It is rarely based on what is happening in the moment. How often is there an actual tiger chasing you round the room?
More often, fear is created by a mental projection of what MIGHT happen—through the mind’s tendency to jump into the future and try to control things you have no control over.
What if I get sick? What if I lose my job and end up homeless? And hell forbid, what if the store runs out of toilet paper?
Note: can someone please explain to me what the obsession with toilet paper is about?
Overthinking creates fearful mind-movies about all the things that MIGHT go wrong— things that aren’t happening right now and probably never will.
I love this this quote from Mark Twain:
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
And if even if your worst fear did materialise, it would probably be easier to face than your imagined version.
After all, what action can you take to remedy a situation that exists only as thoughts in your head—except to stop thinking about it! (we’ll come to that shortly).
Your Body Can’t Distinguish Between An Imaginary Threat And A Real One
Your house is secure. You’ve locked the doors and switched the lights off. You’re lying safely in your warm and comfortable bed.
But there’s just one problem—the bogeyman lurking in the cupboard!
As you imagine him standing behind the door, waiting to come out and get you, your breath becomes laboured, you break out in a cold sweat, you start to have palpitations.
Such is the power of the imagination.
When your mind is telling your body there is an imminent threat, the body takes it as truth. It jumps into fight or flight mode.
It reacts in the same way whether there is an actual threat or just thoughts about it.
The key to breaking the patterns of fear and anxiety (and other destructive patterns) is to change the way you relate to the thoughts in your head.
You need to make a conscious choice to withdraw your attention from fearful thinking.
Loosening The Identification With Thoughts
Most fear-based thinking patterns are unconscious. They are habitual and run on autopilot.
A particular thought arises. The mind grabs onto it and races off into the future, imagining all kind of disastrous outcomes.
The first step in breaking the pattern is to become more aware of what’s happening. We need to make unconscious thinking conscious—to see what the mind just did.
Recognise that (assuming there is no immediate danger) your mind is creating the fear through dwelling on fearful thoughts.
It is painting an imaginary picture of loss that has no bearing on what’s happening right now.
The first step is to be present.
Take a slow, deep, conscious breath and hold it for a moment. As you breathe out, let go of any tension you’re holding in your body.
Acknowledge there is fear. Allow it to be there.
Take another deep breath. It may help to make some sound to help release pent up energy as you breath out.
Conscious breathing serves three purposes:
- when the mind is agitated, your breathing automatically becomes rapid and shallow. Consciously taking long, deep breaths helps pacify the mind.
- through focusing on your breath, you withdraw your attention from any stories the mind is attaching to the feelings of fear or anxiety.
- awareness of breath keeps you anchored in the present moment, where there are no problems.
Stepping Back From the Mind
As you consciously breath in and out, thoughts will continue to arise.
Instead of following them and allowing them to develop into a story, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
Watch the thoughts. Acknowledge them. Allow them to be there.
Notice that you can choose what you give attention to.
You can allow thoughts to drag you into thinking about the future or you can stay with your breathing, using it as an anchor to stay present in the moment.
Of course, when the fear is strong, the pull to follow the thoughts will be strong.
But although you may still be in the grip of fear, something fundamental has changed. You now know there’s a choice.
Most people are so identified with their thoughts and resulting fears that they take them to be 100% real.
You are beginning to awaken from total identification with thinking.
It becomes a kind of dance:
- first you are lost in your fearful story
- you then notice, step back and watch the thoughts as an observer
- you forget again and get sucked back into thinking
- at some point you become aware again and become the watcher
And as you practice more and more, a new dimension begins to open up inside you — an inner space that feels freer, more expansive, more alive — a space where fear can find no resting place.
When a thought comes you can then choose whether you follow it and suffer… or stay present and remain at peace.
Holding Fear In A Bigger Container
If you put a tablespoon of salt in a cup of water and stir it, it becomes unpalatable.
Put the same tablespoon of salt in a lake, however, and it doesn’t affect the taste at all.
It’s the same with fear and other challenging emotions.
When we are totally identified with the mind, the fear APPEARS to fill every fibre of our being.
As we become less identified with thinking and more stablished in Presence, the same fear takes up much less room in our inner space.
We are still aware of it but it’s no longer so all-encompassing as before. It no longer disturbs our peace to the same extent.
Fear and Presence are totally opposing frequencies. Although the reality in the room may be exactly the same, they produce completely different experiences.
A totally different world emerges as you shift from one frequency to the other.
I’d love to hear what you think of the post. Please leave a comment below.
And you might like to check out my book?