Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dr. Cara Barker Headshot

The Problem With Fear

Posted: Updated:

"The only thing to fear is fear itself."
-F.D. Roosevelt

It's everywhere. Here's a few of the expressed fears I've heard over the past few days: "When will the demand for more troops to Afghanistan end? What if Ahmadinejad keeps heading in this direction?" "How many terrorist plots are out there, like Springfield, Dallas, Denver that haven't been caught?" "What if these madmen overtake the rest of us?" "What if healthcare reform never gets passed?" What if my company goes down?" "What if Michael Moore's right?" "What if I can't lose the weight my doctor says I must and get really sick?" And, from the head of a major publishing company: "The way the economy is, we can't publish what's needed. We can only 'put out there' what sells fast so we all don't go down." When we get hooked by fear, we are at risk of selling our soul.

The problem with fear is that it leads us to cash in our vote. There you are, moving down your life road, and fear, this uninvited guest, pops in front of you, and hurls you into darker places. Fear's roots wear many costumes: anxiety, anger, revenge, power grabbing. When our own private 'boogey man' intrudes into life, what's the end-result? Very simply, fear takes us off-course. Here's a sample from one of my HP readers, who bravely confesses:

"...in the midst of this joy was this very painful 'thing' that could set me rolling in an instant and consume me with thoughts of revenge. Sometimes it was just INCREDILY difficult to deal with the mental noise it was capable of creating, even though I had plenty to be joyful about...."

When we cash in our vote, we separate from our Spirit, our best instincts and deepest Wisdom. Fear shrinks us down, holds us hostage, blocking our development and contribution. Remember, fear's domain is the future, not the present. While there can be healthy fear, and a healthy response to it, much of what we suffer comes from misplaced fear. Fear affects not only the individual, but the entire family and community. Hence, my mother's people, as well as other indigenous peoples around the world, approach the fear-based situation from a completely different perspective than the Western world. When stuck in fear, the shamans' practice is to do whatever's necessary to 'call back the Spirit, ('retrieval'), or remove the fearful 'intruder' by extrusion practices.

How can we do this today? We can learn another way to spell fear: False-expectations-arising from-rigidity. When we operate out of false expectations arising from rigidity, we get stuck. Life happens when we are flowing. To get unstuck from whatever's 'got us by the short hairs,' we need to remember that who we are is greater than the present fear. We are here to grow, and find more freedom, joy, abundance than love affairs with fear allow. We can take back our power from fear. We can choose to wake-up what's frozen, including our courage.

Four Steps You Can Take toward Fear-Busting:

1. Make the fundamental choice that you are going to take better care of yourself.
After our treadmill chit-chat, my neighbor realized that his worry does not change Iran's direction, but only drives up his own
cortisol. Good for him: a vote for his own well-being.

2. Decide to use the energy of fear to help you grow, not feel defeat.
A colleague awakens to the fact that fearing other plots does
not alter anything. What this 47 year old woman can do is take
responsibility for not letting her inner 'madwoman' ruins her day
by what cognitive behaviorist Aaron Beck has dubbed 'catastrophizing.'

3. Dialogue with fear: Using your creative imagination, doodle your present fear on paper, and ask this little fellow: 'What do you want from me?' Listen. No doubt it's trying to scare the 'dickens' out of you because it's afraid you'll find the freedom trail.
Martin, a 51 year old man in construction, noted that his
'doodle' 'told' him that his fear was 'just trying to protect you.' Underneath which, he found an old, familiar pattern of this same fear
showing up whenever he's wanted to take a leap of faith in the direction of his own heart's desire. For several years, Martin's wanted to build schools for kids in third world countries, but has talked himself out of it for fear of 'how would I make a living?' His fear has cheated him out of his inspirational vision.

4. Thank your fear for its concern, move on, do something more
productive that uplifts your Spirit, calls you back to who you
really are. Whether you appreciate him or not, Michael Moore turned his anger into 20 years of films, as one example.
In Martin's case, he is currently researching areas where his skills
could be well used in the direction of his dream. He told me this morning: "Maybe I will lose the company. But, in the meantime, I'm getting 'my ducks in order.' I feel more excited than scared, as long as I keep my eye on what matters to me."

These courageous acts are called 'giving what needs attention, intelligent attention.'

"When the teachings tell us to 'make friends with our emotions,' they mean to become more attentive and get to know them better. Being ignorant about emotions only makes matters worse; feeling guilty or ashamed of them does the same. Struggling against them is equally non-productive. The only way to dissolve their power is with our wholehearted, intelligent attention. Only then is it possible to stay steady, connect with the underlying energy, and discover their insubstantial nature." - Pema Chodron

I'd love to hear from you. What fear's caught you in its grip? What have you done that's been useful in the process of releasing fear? What message do you have to others who are struggling with their own private fear today? I'll get back to you as quickly as I can. Meanwhile, kindly forward this article to whoever's on your list that could benefit from waving fear good-bye!

From Our Partners