Fear: 7 Simple Ways to Keep It From Killing You

Fear picThere seems to be a lot to fear in today’s world. According to recent Gallup poll here are some of the things most of us fear:

  • Having our credit card information stolen
  • Having our computer or smart phone hacked
  • Having our children harmed at school
  • Getting mugged
  • Being a victim of terrorism
  • Being a victim of a hate crime
  • Being sexually assaulted
  • Being murdered

We also fear larger issues in society including the following:

  • Government leadership, or lack thereof
  • Economic dislocations
  • Unemployment
  • Healthcare inadequacies
  • Immigration
  • Economic inequality
  • Global warming
  • Racism

We all have felt the effect of these kinds of fears. We worry more, become anxious, our stress levels rise, and we have difficulty sleeping. We become irritable, angry, and depressed. Dr. Lissa Rankin is the best-selling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. In her forthcoming book The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage as Medicine for the Body, Mind, and Soul, Rankin offers scientific proof that fear can make you sick. It can even kill you.

So how do we protect ourselves against the fears that can harm us? Here are some things I have found helpful:

  1. Distinguish between real fear and false fear.

Real fear is life-supporting. It alerts us to a real danger that we should avoid. False fears are those that seem real, but can’t really harm us. There’s a story of a hitchhiker who is picked up by a mortuary driver who tells the guy, “sure, get in the back.” The weary hitchhiker is glad for the ride. But an hour later when he sees a coffin lid lift and a body rise up, the hitchhiker panics and jumps out of the hearse. He is hit by a car and dies. The mortuary assistant who had taken a nap in one of the coffins has a heart attack when he sees the man jump and he, too, dies. False fear is a killer. These kinds of fears only happen to humans, no dog would jump to his death because a body appeared unexpectedly. Ask yourself, “Which false fears do you worry about?”

  1. Ask yourself “who profits from stirring up our false fears?”

When you think of it, a lot of our fears are created by the media. Fear sells newspapers, grabs our attention on T.V. and the internet. And of course advertisers are selling us stuff to calm or feed our fears. Think of the “comfort food” that is being sold after we are revved up about the latest terrorist attack. Think of the profits being made to convince us we need to spend more on “homeland security.” Turn it off, tune it out, don’t feed your mind with false fears.

  1. The only thing we have to fear, are the false fears themselves.

We remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his first inaugural address to the nation Saturday, March 4, 1933 when we faced difficult times. After taking the oath of office, Roosevelt proceeded to deliver his 1,883-word, 20 minute-long inaugural address (oh for the times of short, to the point, and meaningful presidential addresses), including these moving words:  “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

When Roosevelt called the nature to come together, there were real issues the country needed to address. Then, as now, there are economic concerns. We still need to learn to stop wars over dwindling supplies of cheap oil. We also need to stop our fear of “terrorism” which keeps us perpetually at war with a faceless enemy who we are told is “here, there, and everywhere.”

  1. Understand how fear is used by those in power to take from the many and give to the few to increase their wealth and power.

Addressing himself to the causes of the economic crisis and its moral dimensions, Roosevelt placed blame squarely on the greed and shortsightedness of bankers and businessmen, as seen in the following excerpts:

“Rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men… Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.”

We’re at a similar time in human history where those in power want to take from the people.  We can “just say no,” join together, and oppose the privatization of the public resources.

  1. Disaster capitalism creates crises then makes big bucks “fixing” the problem they create.

There is a kind of capitalism that uses natural disasters or creates man-made disasters to push through policies that benefit a few at the expense of the many. These leaders exploit crises to push through controversial and exploitative policies while citizens are too emotionally and physically distracted by disasters or upheavals to mount an effective resistance. We saw this go on in New Orleans following Katrina, where people were forced out of the area and land speculators came in could buy up prime property. We’ve seen it after 9-11 when the public’s fear of terrorism has been used to fund a huge “homeland security” bureaucracy and a war in Iraq.

According to an article in International Business Times, “Private or publicly listed firms received at least $138 billion of U.S. taxpayer money for government contracts for services that included providing private security, building infrastructure and feeding the troops.” Former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton made $39.5 billion on the Iraq War.

As our fears induce us to spend more and more on war, we are told there isn’t enough money for things like a minimum wage, health-care for our citizens, or a real climate change policy. In her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and more recently in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein offers ways to combat these fears and offers creative solutions for a better way of life.

  1. Recognize that our brains are Velcro for fear, but Teflon for Love

In his book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says, “Your brain was wired in such a way when it evolved, it was primed to learn quickly from bad experiences but not so much from the good ones.” It’s why traumatic memories and fearful memories so often stick in our brains, while positive memories seem to slip away. “It’s an ancient survival mechanism that turned the brain into Velcro for the negative, but Teflon for the positive,” Hanson concludes.

If we know our brain’s tendency to get hooked on all the bad things happening in the world rather than the good, it’s easier to change our perceptions.

  1. Mindfulness and energy medicine can reduce our fears and keep us alive and well.

In order to extricate ourselves from the false fears that keep us dependent on “disaster capitalism, we need to learn to free our mind and reduce the stresses that make us more vulnerable to manipulation. There are a number of books that I recommend. My colleague, Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. has a wonderful book available,  Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self Compassion. Dr. Goldstein offers practical suggestions for living life with a peaceful mind, despite the bombardment of stresses so many of us experience.

I also recommend Code to Joy: The Four-Step Solution to Unlocking Your Natural State of Happiness by George Pratt, PhD and Peter Lambrou, PhD and my own Stress Relief For Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well.

Fear can kill, but fear can also heal. We can be passive and allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who would use our fear increase their power and profits or we can use our fear to find the courage to heal old wounds and come home to our true selves.  

What have your experiences been with fear?

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  1. Good job, Jed. I am concerned though to talk about two different kinds of fear still keeps the mind – set in fear, which is an illusion, if I might be so bold. Sogyal Rinpoche in his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, points out very clearly that fear projects to a time that does not exist, and is, therefore, an illusion. He advises us to come back to the present, and the illusion disappears, to be replaced by “awareness”… a fundamental process to all practices of martial arts. A very good friend of mine who is an Ojibway healer was slicing carrots in the presence of the husband from whom she was becoming estranged when she sliced open her index finger. Following her training, she gave herself permission and instruction to be fully “present to it, and let go of all fear”. In 15 minutes of this practice, she knew that she had taken care of it; so she looked, saw that she had, and when she showed it to her husband he got up and left the house and never came back… the deep cut had completely disappeared! So I strongly suggest that you change the words “real fear” to “awareness” and/or “presence”. In this way, you eliminate all references to fear and encourage/invite your reader to live in the now – moment. Thanks for asking.

  2. Points two, four and five really resonate with me. I so appreciate you saying them outloud. Our society sorely needs to understand and act on those concepts, in my opinion. Of course number seven ties everything up with a beautiful, peaceful bow. Exists any problem that can’t be remedied with the gift of mindfulness? – ahhhh! Thanks as always for your insights. Namaste’