04/11/2012 07:40 am ET | Updated Jun 11, 2012

Fear Is Like a Virus

Fear is transmitted from person to person. There are days when we wake up and feel good and over the course of the day we are reduced to fear. Our perspective changes. It is transmitted and caught through watching TV, reading the headlines of the newspaper or listening to the radio, where we are told we should be afraid. When we doubt ourselves and believe in the "experts" that share the fear, we allow ourselves to become sick -- sick with fear.

People agree that some fears are more debilitating than others. It's as if different fears carry different "fear weight." The fear of spiders feels lighter than the fear of losing all your money or your home. The fear of dying weighs heavier as we get older. It seems important to lighten the "backpack" of fears we carry. Over the years the backpack becomes heavier and heavier, taking more energy to keep our fears with us. It also takes more energy to rationalize why we are carrying them with us at all.

Fears are given to us, yet we can choose if we want to live with those fears. The fears we have chosen along the way must be periodically reviewed to see if they make us happy, keep us safe, keep us productive or if they create shame, isolation and unhappiness. If we review it often and with as much illumination and truth as we can muster, the fears can dissipate and disappear altogether.

What are we afraid of?

Fear of Financial Crisis

When we are in survival mode we stop thriving and our focus is on surviving day to day. It is difficult to grow emotionally and spiritually while living in fear of your basic survival. A successful executive who was laid off says, "I can't sleep. I open my eyes and the anxiety I feel is overwhelming. It begins like this most days: the sick feeling that I can't pay my bills, the tightness in my chest from the fear that today will be like yesterday, the stomachache that runs deep into my back that tells me I am afraid." This fear can be debilitating but this fear can also be managed and eventually overcome.

Fear of Dying

We fear aging and ultimately think more about death as our bodies change and our parents pass on. When we see our friends in their 50s-60s get sick and die, it brings home the issue of mortality. We can embrace this fear and choose to live life fully, or choose to live less and more cautiously and carry the burden of fear. A friend who recently lost his wife told me, "I remind myself to choose something today that will make me feel better than the hopeless thoughts I awoke to. It means that not only can I create some meaning, peace and joy in my life at any moment of my choosing, it also means that God or some force greater than myself can also be creating something good for me."

Fear of Pain

Becoming sick or being physically or emotionally hurt is a fear many people carry with them throughout their lives. I spoke to a woman who has several chronic illnesses, and she said "I try to change my thoughts, but the anxiety is stronger than my will this morning. I know better than to run through the 'list' of things troubling me. I know this only makes it worse and makes me feel like there is no solution." The choices that we make when afraid of pain are choices to live "less than." A friend of mine suffering from cancer recently shared "I feel hope. I try to let this tiny feeling of hopefulness get a little bigger. I stop the urge to destroy this hope by feeling fear and I go with the hope feeling."

Fear of Failing

The longer you carry this fear, the more it becomes a habit. The fear of humiliation is strong and left unchecked, you may make choices that give in to this fear, and this may define who you will eventually become.

A woman who is changing careers in her late 50s told me, "I remember my thoughts create my reality, and right now I am choosing to live in fear. I argue with myself that thoughts are not as powerful and reliable as action, but I know differently and I stop myself from defending that point vigorously. Thoughts do change something. I know they do. I begin to think differently. I am safe."

Regardless of what has happened to you, you need not carry around the burden of fear. Fear no longer serves the highest vision we have of ourselves and for our future. Our goal can be to live a fearless life, to end fear so we can embrace the very moments that bring us joy, intimacy, success and adventure.

For more by Linda Durnell, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.