A very common question I get is “How do I become free of fear?”
The truth is no one can get rid of the fear response, no matter who they are or what they do. This response is hard-wired into our brain and is needed for our survival. A problem only occurs when the response comes about when it is not needed. When it starts to curb on your life and on your freedom. The goal is to no longer fear the feeling of fear so that it no longer has any influence over how you live your life, it is not to eliminate fear entirely.
So today I am not going to talk about getting rid of fear but more about learning to be more comfortable with fear. I often refer to fear as an energy surge, as that is what it is, a surge of energy. Does this energy surge feel uncomfortable and scary? Yes. Is it harmful in any way? No. Will allowing its presence lead you to losing it? No
Getting to know fear
How I overcame fear was by truly understanding it and getting to know it. To help me understand it better, I concluded that we were all created perfectly. We have a heart that pumps blood around, a stomach that digests food, teeth for chewing food, a voice box for talking, feet so we can stand up correctly, well I could go on and on here. So, it’s pretty apparent that we are a damn perfect creation with all our needs met.
One of those needs is the fight or flight response; one that is vital for our survival. Otherwise, if someone jumped out at us with the intention of attacking us, we would just stand there and be in far more trouble than if we fought or fled.
The reason this feeling is scary is that it has to be, it’s giving you the option to fight or escape. The fight or flight response pumps certain chemicals through your body that help make you more alert, speeds up your heart rate, pumps adrenalin into your system and all the rest of the amazing changes it creates. This happens so that you are presented with the extra strength or speed to escape or fight back if you need to.
You may know most of the above anyway, so where am I going with all this?
Well, the big realisation I had when I felt fear was that it was a normal bodily reaction. It was never meant to be harmful in any way, who or what created would never be that cruel, it was just another perfect part of our inner engineering. Yes, it is uncomfortable but if it wasn’t then we would have no urge to fight or flee; but although it felt uncomfortable, it certainly wasn’t harmful to me.
Through educating myself and observing it, I really started to get to know fear and its limits and concluded that it wasn’t the big deal I made it out to be. In fact, fear wasn’t the problem; it was my fear of this fear that was. It was my fear of it that created so much avoidance and the cause of me continually trying to escape, avoid or suppress it.
Life was never to blame for my fear
It was the fear of fear that stopped me from living the life I wanted, not life itself; it was the refusal to experience it that kept all this fearful energy trapped inside of me. I always thought I needed to find a way to no longer experience it, to seek out a method to make it go away and then I could finally be free and live my life.
But the truth was that I could never be free unless I released this stored up energy and that could only ever come by allowing myself to feel it. A big part of that was losing my fear of the fear response itself.
I realised the reason my fear came when it was not appropriate was to do with the amount I was carrying around inside me. My body kept trying to release it, but I would not let it. I either avoided, ran away from any triggers or would attempt to suppress the feeling. I would do anything but allow myself to feel it.
Where did all this anxious and fearful energy I had stored inside come from?
From years of overthinking, worrying, stressing, avoiding and pushing all these uncomfortable emotions back down.
I finally understood that I could never overcome fear by avoiding life; freedom also wasn’t going to come through knowledge or planning my life around not feeling it. By doing so, my life was getting narrower and narrower, I wasn’t living, but trying to arrange the world, so I didn’t feel this fear and that was the big problem, the realisation I was missing.
If I wasn’t allowing myself to feel it, then where would all this fearful energy go? Nowhere, it would stay trapped inside of me.
Also, if I was constantly avoiding life, then my brain would conclude that certain situations were to be avoided and a danger to me, so the fear response would be turned up. So, the less I avoided, the more stored up energy was released and the more the fear response would be turned down. This is why knowledge could only take me so far, the real progress was out there, engaging back in life and no longer rearranging my life around not feeling it.
Taking the first steps to freedom from fear
So the first step had to be to no longer avoid and then to allow myself to feel this energy so that I could be free of it.
I realised that the outside world was not the cause of my fear at all, if this were the case, then everyone would be scared of the same thing. I understood deeply that the outside only triggered what was inside of me and that my past avoidance had created the overactive fear response. My brain was just doing what it was designed to do by trying to keep me safe through the information presented to it from my past actions of avoidance.
If instead, I sent it the opposite message and no longer fled, no longer avoided, then I would be sending it the correct message that I was perfectly safe and so the fear response could be turned down and the fearful energy stored within could be released, not immediately but over time and this is exactly what happened.
The past situations I had avoided were actually my teacher here, they were now triggering what needed to be felt and released. Yet, previously I had blamed them for the cause of my fear and so my automatic response was to keep avoiding them.
Because of this wrong vision, I then avoided the outside, and so my mind then became fearful of life. Thinking that if I was avoiding a particular situation, then there must be danger there and that it must continue to keep me safe by continually triggering the fear response.
I could not believe I had not seen this before. Avoiding life was about the dumbest thing I could have done, blaming life was the stupidest conclusion I could have come to.
I saw that my fearful energy wasn’t against me; it wanted to be free of me as much as I wanted to be free of it. The only way was to go ahead and feel it, not avoid it.
I also now realised that my brain wasn’t faulty in any way, it was constantly turning up the fear response because of my past avoidance or methods of escape in these situations. It was only doing its job in trying to keep me safe, safe from threats that did not exist, but through my past actions, how could it know this? It was only going on the information presented to it through my actions, that is the only data it had to work with.
Understanding fear and knowing its limits
I now started to really understand fear as nothing more than my body’s protection system, what a wonderful creation it truly was, always trying to keep me safe.
So now it was my job to teach my brain that I was totally fine and safe in the situations I had once avoided. I needed to teach it that I was fine while understanding that the reaction would kick in for a while yet until it was sure that I was okay. And I also needed to understand that there was also a lot of past fearful energy that I had suppressed yet to release. This was a real revelation to me as previously I thought that if I still felt fear then I was doing something wrong.
Was this new approach easy? I would say it was challenging at times, but a challenge I thrived on deep down. The feeling of fear is uncomfortable, there is no getting away from that, and we don’t like feeling uncomfortable, but if it results in getting our life back, then it is more than worth it.
I decided I wanted my life back and some uncomfortable feelings were no longer going to stop me. It was also exciting and empowering knowing I could do anything no matter how I felt inside, that I could act independently from the fears of my mind and the energy surge and how it would no longer control me and what I did.
When the response initially kicked in, I would say ‘Thank you for trying to keep me safe and I know you are only doing your job but I am fine here, I will teach you this from now on by no longer escaping’.
Every time I pushed my boundaries, every time I did something that I had previously avoided, there was a peak of these feelings and then they flatlined into nothing. The body was not capable of producing it indefinitely.
By seeing through fear and its limits in this way, by seeing that nothing apart from feeling uncomfortable ever happened, I really began to lose my fear of fear itself. I got to the point where it just felt like another emotion I was feeling, it became very ordinary, rather than something to desperately escape from.
In time this energy began to release itself and the fear response began to be turned down. I would go into the same situations I had previously avoided and nothing would happen. It was strange at first not to feel the need to escape, to no longer feel the feelings I had become so used to, to no longer plan my life around not feeing it but it soon became the normal way of living, my default setting.
I would love to say that you can read a certain book, go on a retreat, take some online course or swallow a pill and you will instantly be free but that is not how it works. Each process I had to go through to be free, took action, courage, patience and some understanding of the process I was going through.
Going through the feeling of fear is uncomfortable, but utterly harmless
This is why so many people get stuck as they want to be free without having to go through feeling uncomfortable. I look back and every counsellor I went to see, every book I read, every pill I took, every method or technique I tried to implement, and it was all built around trying to make a feeling go away or to instantly cure my fears. This is the very reason I got nowhere for many years until I finally realised that this is not how it works.
This lack of being willing to experience their stored emotions is the reason people go from one thing to another getting nowhere. They go around thinking ‘I just need to find that piece of information or technique that will cure me instantly. Perhaps I have missed something and the next book, retreat, method, counsellor will finally be able to tell me how to get rid of these feelings or instantly cure my fears’.
In my case, I had tried everything and realised that the answer was not going to come by trying to get rid of something. That to be free of something I had to go through the process of feeling it. I believe the blind alley I went down for so many years was a good thing, as it taught me to stop searching. That the answer lay within me and not with anyone or anything outside of me. That no one or no technique could fix me or get rid of anything.
Where am I now?
I live my life how I wish, engage in all the things I enjoy and experience no anxiety or any fear reaction unless it’s genuinely needed. I don’t mind the feeling at all anyway, I have grown to know and understand fear/anxiety and would barely care if it was present or not.
Even going through this uncomfortable process, I always knew deep down that I was perfectly safe and no matter how I felt internally, that nothing bad was going to happen, I wasn’t going to go crazy, collapse or end up in some place of no return by standing my ground and allowing myself to experience whatever came up in the moment.
I won’t deny that at times it took some real courage and trust when the previous response to escape or avoid would kick in, but not once did anything bad happen and that gave me real confidence going forward. There was always a peak and then nothing, peace would always return no matter how I initially felt. Each and every time I went through this, I realised that a small part of my life was returning, that is how I always looked at it.
The more I went through this process, the more the overwhelming fear response I used to get in certain situations weakened until eventually it just wasn’t there anymore. Also, all the fearful energy that I had kept trapped inside me, the stuff I had avoided and suppressed for so long, had also now been freed up. To regain my freedom, I had done nothing more than retrain my brain and clear up my inner space.
I was now finally free to go anywhere and do anything, the truth is I always was, but now I could do it without any inner discomfort. Looking back, I was never afraid of life; I was always afraid of feeling fear, and that is what eventually changed. This mainly came about by finally allowing myself to experience it and realising that it wasn’t the great big bogey man I thought it was.
To finish, I am not saying this is easy; I am not saying you don’t need trust, patience and courage or that things will change overnight. My understanding helped me, but it still took courage at times.
I just committed myself to staying fearless and relaxed in my attitude no matter what internal chaos was going on. I had some great days and come equally challenging ones but I refused to deviate off my path. I was inspired by the progress I could see and wouldn’t let anything stop me, even if one day I failed, I got straight back up and carried on.
Some people may find things too overwhelming to make such changes initially. So even if you just take small strides at first, then you are still progressing. Just stay committed to your goal, decide from the pit of your stomach that you will do what is needed to regain your life.
That the freedom to live your life as you wish, to enjoy the things you used to do, is far more important than having to experience any uncomfortable feelings, feelings that will eventually die down and fade into nothing.
Never be thrown off by how you initially feel, see any uncomfortable feelings as a sign that you are changing your life, that you are growing and not as any sign of failure. Anything you initially feel is completely normal in the circumstances but is not permanent. The more you allow yourself to experience them, the more they will die down, the more you do, the more the fear response in your brain will be turned down.
To regain our life, we have to have the courage to go back out and live it. I wish you well.
If you would like to read my full story of how I overcame anxiety and panic you can find it all in my best selling book on the subject ‘At last a life’