Fear is very useful to us as humans. It is a vital response to physical and emotional danger — if we didn't feel it, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from dangerous and these fears can stop us from experiencing wonderful things such as improved hearing.
When fear is useful
We as humans are hardwired for self preservation. That familiar adrenaline surge, or “fight of flight” response, kicks in when we sense a threat to our life or wellbeing. But now we have moved on from the law of the jungle, fear forces us to focus on areas of our lives which our instincts tell us needs our attention, be it a problem in the workplace, a bad relationship or perhaps a hearing problem which needs to be addressed. Fear forces us into extreme concentration and helps us to shed distractions. Scientists have also proven that fear can give us so-called “super powers”, for example the ability to lift heavy objects when under extreme pressure. Penn State kinesiologist Vladimir Zatsiorsky found that in competition scenarios weight lifters can lift an additional 12% because in critical situations, where there is a potential benefit (a world championship title, for example), your subconscious brain thinks the benefit is worth risking an injury.
When fear gets out of hand
Fear can be your friend in the right doses, but too much can pervade your life. The normal process is that danger triggers fear, and after the danger is gone the fear subsides. But when the fear does not subside it turns into something more pernicious: in extreme cases, anxiety. Anxious people tend to overreact to situations and find fear around every corner. Not all of us suffer from anxiety, but fear certainly has the potential to hold us back in life. Sometimes we might have a scary decision to make, such as whether to take action against severe hearing loss and have an operation for hearing implants. The more data-oriented among us might make a list of pros and cons. High on the list of cons might be fears about the surgery and rehab process. If I am ok as I am, have learned to manage my disability and communicate effectively with people, then why take the risk?
Think about the gains!
In her book “Fear is not an option”, Monica Berg wrote: “If we live a risk-averse existence because of fear, we also live a joy-averse existence.” The life you live depends on the choices you make and the (calculated) risks you take. They are the very ingredients in the recipe called happiness. Overcoming fears mean that great otherwise unforeseen opportunities might come our way, perhaps a new job, a new relationship or a new hearing experience. Overcoming fears forces us to learn and embracing risk-taking also helps you to overcome a fear of failure. As Arianne Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, said: “Failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success.”
Key is a positive mindset
Researchers have shown that a positive mindset goes a long way in helping us to overcome our fears. In the case of those with a fear of flying, it helps if these people are looking forward to what greets them at the end of the journey. This is not entirely rational – the likelihood of you falling prey to an accident on a flight does not decrease if you are going on a vacation rather than say a stressful business trip - but your perception of that risk changes. If you are going on vacation, your mind is set to positive and all is generally well with the world. In 2012 researchers from Ohio State University found that those with a positive attitude were more likely to conquer their phobia of public speaking following exposure therapy than those with a more negative mindset. The same could be said for other fears in life. It stands to reason that those who generally hold a positive view of the world around them have less fear of the potential “what ifs”, and are better able to rationalize them in the event of a negative outcome.
Tips for overcoming fear
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said it best when she said: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” So what can you do if you are worried about taking that job, going into that new relationship or having that all important operation which could improve your hearing?
- Analyze the nature of your fear: is your fear based on something rational, or is it based simply on “what ifs”? Fear of failure certainly falls under the “what ifs”! Don’t let these rule your life.
- Prioritize the potential benefits: there will always be cons to every decision. But weigh these up properly against the potential benefits of a decision and how your life might change for the better.
- Learn to live with a certain level of uncertainty in your life: you will never eliminate all risk in life, so stop acting as if you can! Making a big decision is simply choosing one of many paths through the uncertainty.
- Stop thinking “doing nothing” is an option: action gives us confidence, forces us to learn and keeps us moving forward in life. Actively decide to be courageous.