The Psychology of Fear (patterns, emotions, thoughts)

I want to share with you some things I have learned about the psychology of fear.

Fight, flight or freeze

No doubt you will have heard of the fight, flight or freeze response when we are faced with fear. Fear is a survival tactic and in the early days of our existence was used to keep us safe from dangers in our immediate environment. Imagine a bear coming to the entrance of your cave…do you fight it, run or hide? It will depend on a number of things – many which happen automatically, that are out of your control, like the release of adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream and the messages sent your brain. This is because when faced with a bear in the entrance of your cave, you need to act quickly, not be weighing up the pros and cons!

Nowadays our fears come from our emotions (most of the time) but our brain doesn’t always know the difference and thus trigger our fight/flight/freeze response. Of course, there are times when fear is a good thing, like when you are in a dangerous situation, but when it stems from worrying or a stressful situation then the key is to manage your fear so that you don’t freeze from acting on your own behalf and for your own wellbeing.

Emotions and limiting beliefs

Our emotions are often related directly to the beliefs that we hold and we match patterns based on these, learning from birth all the way through our lives. We learn some things instinctively and others through our experiences e.g. that shadows aren’t scary.

The problem arises because our emotional brain moves more quickly than our rational brain and sometimes some emotional reactions (and consequent emotional memories) can be formed without any conscious participation from the thinking brain at all. Since the emotional brain thinks only when in survival mode i.e. fight or flight – do it or don’t do it, then in order to get back to our thinking and more rational mind we must calm the emotional brain and examine the patterns we are making and/or observing. If we change the pattern e.g. if I lose one job it will happen again, then we change our emotional response and finally our thoughts (mindset).

You are doing OK

One simple way is to notice that you are doing ok – that you are not in any danger, there is no crisis; you may not be perfect but you are doing ok. If you do this frequently at first, noticing in that instant, in that moment. Say it in your head or out loud or even to someone else:

“I am doing ok.”

When your emotional brain is running the show you will need to do whatever you need to do to get through it and back to your rational brain but when you are able to remind yourself you are doing alright. Eventually, you will change your pattern making, calming your emotional brain and getting your thoughts back under control.

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