Check out my new column Mindset at: http://az-lifestyle.com/2012/7/712.html

Conquering Your Fear and Keeping It Current

You know you need to get over it and just do it. You stare down your computer, poised to figure out how to use Google Docs, sync your smart phone, set your calendar up on-line…but something stops you…FEAR.  “What if I can’t figure it out?” “What if it ends up a big mess?” “What if it all goes terribly wrong?” Fear creeps into your thoughts, and anticipation of failure invades your brain, paralyzing you from moving forward, taking a risk, and learning something new.

What is fear? Why does it stop us in our tracks, even when we are eager to move forward? Fear is simply the anticipation of a future event that we imagine will end badly. In other words, it’s something we do to ourselves, by envisioning our own doom.But there’s more. Fear is a physiologic process. Fear links us back to past memories of fear and failure, activating brain structures that keep us in an endless feedback loop of fear and anxiety. Yuck!

So, what can we do about it?

  1. Take a deep breath or two and tell yourself you can do it.
  2. Become aware of the fearful messages you are saying to yourself, that internal dialogue of doom and gloom, and turn it around.
  3. Tell yourself that although you are nervous about the outcome, you can figure it out, you can succeed.
  4. In fact, in your mind’s eye, envision yourself succeeding. Allow yourself to see it and imagine what it will feel like to succeed. Why not? You’re already envisioning and allowing yourself to imagine what it will feel like to fail. Why not imagine the more preferable of the two options?

As a matter of fact, there is neuroscience behind this good advice. A brain structure called the amygdala, found in our limbic system (our emotional regulatory command central), gets fired up when we begin to imagine fearful outcomes, which links us back in time to past fearful experiences. A toxic brain chemical or neurotransmitter called Cortisol gets released into the nerve pathways of our brains and begins to kill off nerve cells that help us mount a stress reducing response. Pretty soon our whole autonomic nervous system’s fight-or-flight mechanism is engaged. We are ready to fight or flee the “tiger” that we believe is threatening us; our body begins to enlist precious resources to fight the battle. In cave people days this cascade of events that kept us on high alert for danger helped ensure our species survival. Without this activating system, the tiger would eat us and our species future would be in jeopardy. We faced these threats on rare occasions, but now, these repeated and frequent confrontations with imaginary “tigers” exhausts our mind and body, and over time will make us sick by using up our resources and placing chronic stress on our vital organs. Luckily, as soon as we engage in thinking about positive outcomes it all begins to turn around. Our prefrontal cortex comes on-line, soothing our brain and allowing us to calm down and think more rationally. We remind ourselves that we have faced past challenges successfully and that we can do so now. The more we employee this technique, the easier it becomes for us to mount this resilient response. In fact, we make new nerve connections and begin to shape our brain to be more resilient and less stress reactive. How cool is that?

The good news, according to Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, the more we practice “bringing in the good” by focusing on the positive for more than 10 minutes at a time each day, the better able we are to shape our brain to be stress resilient and to more quickly overcome our automatic stress and fear responses. Imagine your amygdala as your overdeveloped biceps and your left prefrontal cortex as your underdeveloped triceps. By lifting the “bar bells” of your positive experiences on a regular basis, you can strengthen your prefrontal cortex to match the power of your amygdala. Seriously. You can. It’s amazing.

So, sit down in front of the computer again, move forward into the present and out of your past fears, see yourself happily succeeding at the task in front of you, tell yourself you can figure it out, and go for it! And once you’ve accomplished the task, store the memory of this most recent success where you can find it, so you can face the next “tiger” with character and courage.

So, are you ready to give it a try?

Be happy and well,
Sari Roth-Roemer

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