Photo by Juan Arreguin / Unsplash

Why fear is one of the best life teachers

Did you always feel like you're holding back from life? Maybe your relationship with fear is the problem.

Why fear is one of the best life teachers

Did you always feel like you're holding back from life? Maybe your relationship with fear is the problem.

Fear is one of the human primary instincts. Our organism can quickly react to danger and ensure survival thanks to evolution.

When we are children, fear helps us learn which things are safe and which should be avoided. For example, when a curious child touches a hot stove for the first time, he gets frightened and quickly withdraws his hand. The feeling and this lesson will tell him to steer clear of hot things, so it won't happen next time.

But as with everything else, a proper amount of caution is needed. There should be a balance between what things you skip and which ones you continue. As adults, we should control this delicate ratio, but if you're like me, this is probably not the case very often. I started to avoid uncomfortable situations like the plague, not knowing what I was doing and how much I was actually harming myself. I didn't figure it out until I realized that I was letting my fears control my whole life so much that it lacked direction, experiences or new activities.

I was thinking – how is it possible that some people look so lucky like everything is kind of easier for them? My dreams had been put on hold because my approach to fear and my worries was absolutely messed up.

The problem with fear

Worries can function as an excellent motivator and a very effective one.  This is a positive and important thing. Think about it -- What makes you get out of bed every morning and go to work? Do you like to be stuck in the morning traffic, or do you like to do one thing for hours? No, you're motivated because you want to keep your livelihood, buy food, pay bills and of course buy those fancy sneakers you just saw.

Tendency to avoid difficult situations can negatively influence your quality of life

Fear can make you stuck when you let it have too much power over you. It determines how you deal with unexpected circumstances, or how often you try new things. In the end, the world around you eventually shrinks and changes to a hostile place, where danger lurks around every corner. One day you think to yourself: „Why didn't I open that coffee shop when I wanted it so badly?". And this is the reason – the fear that's wrapped around you in many layers like onion skin.

Everybody who experienced fear more than he could endure would naturally want it to disappear. At first, it looks like a great solution. You could spend most of the time watching tv on the couch and wouldn't be bothered about doing anything else. The whole world would look completely different if everybody acted like lobotomized zombies. When you lose this driving force that can give life an irreplaceable momentum, you will more or less stay in the same spot. Because feeling fear about something also means that you care about it. You want or love something so much that the idea of losing it terrifies you. What would be worse? Live life to the fullest, knowing that you can lose everything in a minute or just exist with blind indifference?

We all have different relationship and reactions to fear. Its influenced by our childhood, upbringing and life experiences. In ancient times it was beneficial to listen to our emotions and run if we were hunted by an animal. Today we are the hunters who threaten everything and it's a whole different story. Let's just say that running away doesn't always have to pay off.

Now, the brain is this mysterious and complicated thing. It usually wants to help us so much that it will learn even a negative behaviour if it means that a strategy for a given situation can be offered more readily next time. If you don't watch yourself and start running away from every little problem, it can soon become your primary solution to everything. We're able to develop all sorts of coping mechanisms to suppress negative emotions so we can function without shaky hands or a thumping heart. Someone isn't calm until a few cupcakes in their stressed belly. Another person might smoke two packs of cigs a day or have something stronger than a coffee before a meeting.

I probably don't have to explain that these habits have far worse influence than facing your worries.

You can't be completely fearless but you can have courage

According to antic philosophers, courage is one of the highly valued traits. Today it means seeing your fear clearly for what it is and doing what you have to do, what your heart tells you. It means repetitively leaving your comfort zone and facing new, unforeseen things even though you're scared. This neverending practice builds strength to go through challenging and seemingly overwhelming obstacles.

Courage is one of the key factors that lead to personal success and happiness

If you want to experience this success and fulfilment, you have to get off from that comfy spot on your couch and start doing. So many people regret later in life all the things they didn't make happen because they stood in their own way and realized it too late.

And you don’t have to be one of them.

Imagine that you can't feel fear. How would you act? Would you say: Hmm, maybe I can tell my boss about a raise. Or you start your own business. Or, without fear of rejection, you ask out the girl you have thought about for so long.

Life limits would suddenly stop existing and all possibilities would open up to you. But this can't be exactly done so that's why we have courage. It's the ultimate ticket to the world of personal freedom. Courage creates a bridge across the abyss of fear and takes you to the other side. Together with perseverance, it gives you the strength to try things over and over until you finally succeed.

Tackle distant fears in your head

I have already said that our brain tries to help us and protect us. And it can do that by creating a future. It generates new estimations from our experiences and shows us concepts we have never experienced in reality. This ability is totally unique and no other creature on earth can think like that.

Unfortunately, this fantastic gift comes with its disadvantage

We are capable of thinking about the very distant future and start having more or less irrational fears like losing a job, getting a terminal disease or being killed by a giant Japanese hornet. Thanks to this, we can go ahead through something that may never happen. And that's pretty annoying when it's not pleasurable future. Our mind can't fully distinguish between reality and imagination, so we feel everything as intensively as if it is already true.

However, this process happens automatically. We cannot stop it even if we want to and that's why it helps to realize a few things:

  • Our minds tend to wander off the most often when we are not occupied by anything. You know the moments. You just watched your favourite  Netflix show and you’re perfectly ready to sleep. You lay down to bed, get all comfy like a human burrito, and suddenly the wheel of future in your head starts spinning – we should plan the vacation for summer, but can we even afford it this year and what if the airplane crashes? There's always a chance…Yeah, everyone’s brain does that. You even don’t have to be completely vacant. When you do things like house chores, cooking, or driving a car, you can do them almost on autopilot, so there’s plenty of room to think about unrelated things.
  • Find out if you can do something about what stresses you or you cannot, if it's helpful or unhelpful thought. So the first important thing is to differentiate between those kinds of thoughts. Some difficult thoughts are helpful, and they can really nudge us to better prepare for future events. But if it’s unhelpful, you have to act according to your values and priorities. For example, your focus at the moment might be finishing the Spanish language course because you want to better understand your wife in her native language. Because one of your highest values is family. The bad feeling you have from that thought will be eventually replaced by the good feeling from things that make your life meaningful. With enough time, the intrusive thoughts will slowly fade away.

Face your everyday worries

And finally, there are situations that we usually encounter at one moment or another, but can they be stressful if it is our first time or we belong among sensitive individuals. For example, job interviews or exams turned most of us into a ball of nerves trying to pick ourselves up after a sleepless night. But worrying in such moments is only natural and shouldn't be avoided. Usually, there's no real danger, and by regular overcoming these virtual threats, we are actually strengthening our resilience. It definitely sucks initially, but with little steps, this is the fastest way to move forward in life. So even if you're scared and doubtful, just go and still do it.

In case you try this approach, I can guarantee you that one day you'll turn around and be proud of yourself no matter how shy and fearful you were in the beginning.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, everything in life is about making a choice. We are always fully responsible for our reactions and it's the same with fear. Too much retreat can make us unhappy cowards because fear is essential to move forward and experience personal growth. For someone, courage and overcoming obstacles is easier, but most of us have to work for it. Either way, everyone has the same chance to grow from their worries and become more resilient and overall better human beings.