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In this article I'll be writing about fear. Now fear is a strange old thing - it is a human response that is triggered by a perceived threat. You can't necessarily control the response as it is a basic survival mechanism that signals our bodies to respond to a dangerous situation with a fight or flight reaction. As such, it is an essential part of keeping us safe.
However, when people live in constant fear, whether from physical dangers in their environment or threats they perceive, it can start to cause real problems.
A lot of the guys I coach have, in some way or another, a fear that stops them doing what they really want. Be it a fear of presenting, fear of failing, fear of actually getting what they want, fear of not being good enough or a fear of expectation. And so in this article I'll be exploring ways in which you guys can hopefully deal with the fear you're carrying around and help you to get on with achieving your goals.
What Happens When I Experience Fear
So, to start with, fear is simply made up - IT AIN'T REAL guys!
You just perceive that you're under threat or in an anxious position. Now to some of you reading this who has suffered with fear for years - you might not believe this, and that's just fine. But I'm telling you - what you fear, is simply made up in your mind!
Think about it! Try to remember the last time you woke in the middle of the night because you heard a sound coming from downstairs. As you listen even harder (you can do this because your body has already made adjustments to your senses due to huge amount of chemicals flying around your system), you're convinced you're being burgled.
Help me out here guys - what is your body doing right at that minute? Right when you think there is someone downstairs?
I'll tell you. You start sweating, your breathing rate shoots up, you can hear a pin dropping 350 miles away and your heart is banging in your chest. All physiological responses to the nasty burglar downstairs pinching all your expensive goods and family heirlooms.
This is adrenaline being pumped through your body - preparing you to fight or run! It's a powerful chemical which is designed to be a short term intervention to get you out of a sticky spot. It is not designed to be running through your body all day, every day as some people do when they are fearful of something.
Here's what's actually happening to your body during this time:
The nerves in your ears that transduce that sound are the first part of the nervous system. That signal is relayed to the thalamus, a telephone switching station in your brain, and then directly to the amygdala, which releases neurotransmitters throughout the body - notably glutamate, essentially the chemical behind fear.
The actions of glutamate in the amygdala in response to the fearful thing you've heard set off this cascade of other responses.
A reciprocal response comes from an area of the brain called the "periaqueductal gray", a region deep within the ancient brain that controls two classic responses to fear: jumping and freezing. Sound familiar? The hypothalamus controls the fight or flight responses - increased heart rate and so on.
This signal sent to the adrenal glands in your torso causes them to send out cortisol and adrenaline. The fear response also a release of glucose into the bloodstream - a power up to get you running for your life.
And ultimately IT'S ALL MADE UP!! You've simply imagined it (most of the time) - there is in fact NO BURGLAR.
It doesn't matter what the stimuli is - if you suffer from emotional fear, it is usually something that you have believed since you were a child and respond accordingly. But because fear is a learnt behaviour - it also true, therefore, that it can be unlearnt!
What Can I Do To Overcome This?
As a coach, what I do with my clients is take them through a process. This works really well, whether the fear is biochemical (heart rate, sweating etc) or emotional (perhaps a negative experience as a child).
It's a four step process that goes like this:
Take time to explore and identify the troubling experience or fear - now for most people, they already know this - but lots of clients don't always understand why. Working with a coach can help you identify possible sources of your fear which is a definite starting point to getting over it.
Become aware of the thoughts, whether positive or negative - during this stage all we simply aim to achieve is for you the client to recognise that there is a thought occurring? Whether negative or positive is not relevant at this stage - just become aware of it. This is not normal activity for most people so this stage may take a little getting used to.
Identify those negative thoughts - these negative patterns of thinking might be more recognisable via a physical or emotional response. For example, whenever I saw a dog I would cross the street, or my heart rate would rise. I like to have clients understand their triggers to the thought - is it a place, a smell, a phrase or some form of image that when experienced simply renders you paralysed.
Challenge the negative thoughts - by this time you should have a good idea about your fear or issue, where it stems from and what they look like. Now, we can start to really delve into the thought and balance the scenario so that you are more in control of the thought.
Mark Twain beautifully rounds this concept of fear off for me:
"I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."