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Examining Fear

When I was a kid, some angry dogs chased my brother and me down our street. We ran hard, jumped up on our front step, and checked to see if we were still alive. The dogs had miraculously disappeared. I had no idea where they had gone or when they had stopped chasing us, but I knew they were real. My brother said they were real, too. We experienced real fear together and survived. Maybe the fear enhanced our running to keep us safe.

But you know, fear is a full-on biological response to threat. Both mind and body are engaged. If you are experiencing it, it is good news because it means you are alive. You can use the fear to survive, or you can let it paralyze you. I think you need to learn to feel the fear in your body and then evaluate it with your mind and your senses. You have to ask yourself, “Where do I feel this fear in the body”? Some fears, like my fear of the dogs, require an immediate response, feeling it in the legs to run! That is a no-brainer. Some fears, however, are not life-threatening, and you have a choice: hang on, let go. When you hang on to some of these, it can get complicated. Where do you feel these fears? In the chest? The head? You must turn these fears into “evaluated fears.” You must sort fears in either the healthy category or the unhealthy category. Like survival, fears go to the healthy bucket and baseless fears in the unhealthy category. It seems simple, and it is. But we often forget to take the time to do it. Hanging onto these unevaluated fears takes a long term toll on your well-being, and we have to learn to feel where these fears are, evaluate them, and respond accordingly. Usually, we can let the unfounded ones go.

Unevaluated fears can trigger an unconscious fight or flight mode that hogs mental bandwidth and runs down your battery, like keeping your phone’s screen on all the time. With the dogs, I chose flight instead of fight, and that made the difference. I have to tell you, though, I forgot my lesson about the dogs many times over the years. I struggled with fears real and imagined, and it was the imagined fears that took the most considerable toll on my mental health. Fear paralyzed me for many long hours, and my well-being suffered.

But in the long run, I think I learned to make the right choices about fear. I learned to feel the fears in my body, evaluate them, and make a choice to abandon them. These unfounded fears went straight into the unhealthy category and I dealt with them by reminding myself they were not real, and that they were just neurological impulses that were flooding the senses.

All of this is mindfulness. With practice, one can become really good at evaluating the feelings in the body. Honestly, if you need to run away to be safe or take shelter, do it immediately. However, if you are experiencing other fears, anxiety, or worry, I encourage you to take some time to evaluate these fears and find out what they really are. I did it, and it made a big difference.

Love and kindness to you.

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