FIGHT OR FLIGHT
Archana Law knows how to get a grip on herself!
“All we have willed, hoped or dreamed of shall exist. Not its semblance but itself,” said Robert Browning. Sages over the centuries have told us that ‘as a man thinks so he is.’ There is a method of scientific mentation that can help you think only the thought you wish to see crystallised in a worthy achievement or result.
What stops us from achieving our goals and living a fulfilled life is usually a fear of the unknown. This works like a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus, and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, rapid breathing and energised muscles – also known as the fight or flight response.
The stimulus could be an insect, a knife at your throat, an auditorium full of people waiting for you to speak or the sudden thud of your front door against the doorframe!
Fear is a natural and important aspect of life but it can also hamper us in achieving what we desire. It originates in the brain, which is a profoundly complex organ with an intricate network of more than 100 billion nerve cells that control everything we sense, think and do. Some of these responses are conscious while others like fear are autonomic. We don’t consciously trigger it or even know what’s going on until it runs its course. Under its clutches, we shoot first and ask questions later!
Why do we experience fear?
If we were incapable of being afraid, we wouldn’t survive for long. We’d be walking into oncoming traffic, stepping off rooftops and carelessly handling poisonous snakes or spiders. In humans and animals, the purpose of fear is to promote survival.
During the 19th century debate surrounding evolution, Charles Darwin said that an instinctive physical reaction was triggered by an evolved response to fear.
To prove his point, he stood close to the glass partition in the reptile house at the London Zoo while a puff adder lunged towards him on the other side. Each time this happened, he grimaced and jumped back. “My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger, which had never been experienced,” he recalled.
Most of us are no longer fighting (or running) for our lives in the wild but fear is far from an outdated instinct. Some of us also have the unfortunate gift of premonition and we anticipate terrible things that may happen – that which we have heard about, read or simply seen on TV. Anticipating a fearful stimulus can provoke the same response as experiencing it.
The list of common fears includes terrorist attacks, spiders, death, failure, war, heights, crime and violence, being alone, the future, nuclear war, public speaking, visiting the dentist, pain, cancer and snakes. Although these fears are universal, and experiencing fear every now and then is part and parcel of life, living with chronic fear can be both physically and emotionally debilitating.
So what can we do about overcoming our fears?
First, define your worst nightmare. What do you fear? Learn about the very thing you fear. Uncertainty is a huge component of fear so understanding what you’re afraid of goes a long way toward fighting it.
Review your perceptions. What we see is often a subjective reality masterfully constructed by the brain. A hill appears steeper if you’ve just exercised and a landmark appears farther away if you’re carrying a heavy backpack. Similarly, our fears distort the reality. Under the warped logic of fear, anything is better than the uncertain.
Instantly shift your attitude by choosing what you think about – positive thoughts for a feel-good effect, for example. Change your posture. Every emotion has physical attributes. If you act like you are depressed then your shoulders will slump, your head will tilt, and you’ll frown and breathe slowly. But if you can hold your smile for several seconds, it will change your biochemistry.
Act upon what you are putting off. Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call or conversation, or whatever the action might be – the fear of the unknown prevents us from doing what we need to do.
Play mind games with yourself! If you’re afraid of speaking in front of groups, this is probably because you think the audience is going to judge you. Try imagining members of the audience as being supportive and open – this formula works every time. The good news is that it puts us in control and often spells the difference between success and failure.
Helen Keller once said that the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. How true.
And I hope you can see what I see!