Psychological researchers, John Watson and Paul Ekman, recognised that fear is one of the basic innate emotions that we experience, and everyone will experience it. Fear is associated with the amygdala in the brain and regulated by the hypothalamus, with the physiological reactions known as the "fight-or-flight" response and/or even "freeze" response in some situations (you can remember them by the 3"F"s). We know a lot about them from the most common phobias that we have heard or learnt about, but this post is addressing general fears of the unknown, rather than phobias.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933), the 32nd President of the United States, in his first Inaugural Address said:
"the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."This unconscious inner fear that we experience comes unknowingly, sometimes unexpressed, and often stops us in our tracks. I am referring the fear of facing, trying, or experiencing something new, unknown, etc. People fear facing and experiencing things that are new and unknown, purely for the reasons that they are new and unknown. Why is this so?
As we go though our everyday lives, we form habits unconsciously, walking the same path to and fro work everyday, saying "Hi" to same people, having meals and coffee breaks at the same time, creating a monotonous boring cycle. This provides us with a sense of security and insurance that we know that we are in control of whatever is happening around; on the other hand, these routines may create a restriction towards the vast opportunities, experiences, and knowledge that one could actually get if some changes, even minor ones, were made. We take "flight" or "freeze" from these opportunities that may benefit us somehow at an uncertain point of our lives. The new, unknown, or unpredictable experience could actually be useful in some way, and by not experiencing it, we will not even get the chance to see if it will be useful at all.
This concept of not having the fear of new opportunities and experiences require a few conditions:
- Thirst for Knowledge
- You need to have the hunger and thirst for knowledge. Knowledge is one thing that no one can take away from you and only accessible to you alone, hence there is no harm in gaining more for yourself. Any information you gain now may be useful later. However, acquiring knowledge should be focused and directional. That way, it will serve a purpose, and with this purpose, it can then propel you to seek more knowledge. Gaining more knowledge also helps you understand things better, and through understanding yourself and your fears better, it will help in reducing them.
- With curiosity, it will make you ask more questions, get the answers, and then asking more questions, leaving no stones unturned. Through being curious, it will also help you to gain more knowledge. A good way is to start asking "What? Why? How?" Though curiosity may not be as useful as having knowledge to reduce fears, it might serve as a motivation to understand the situation better, than the focus on the negative thoughts relating to the fears.
- Positive Mindset
- When experiencing the fear, it is inevitable that one will have negative thoughts. Always having a positive mindset will help face these negative thoughts better, as staying positive in the face of fear will help you deal with it more rationally and calm. In the process, you just need to tell yourself "It's okay, just relax and (try to) enjoy the process" If that is not possible, the next step would be to do some deep breathing, followed by altering your thoughts to more positive ones, such as "You can do it!" As we start to calm down, it will allow us to react better towards the situation and enjoy the experience much more.