There’s a lot of fear going around at the moment. From fear of the unknown to fear of losing your job, we’ve all been living with a certain degree of fear for most of this year. Whilst fear is helpful – good old fight of flight to get us out of that sticky Saber Tooth Tiger situation – it is harmful to us both mentally and physically if it becomes chronic, potentially more so than the thing we feared in the first place.
HOW FEAR WORKS
Fear helps our bodies react to danger. Once we sense a potential danger, our body releases hormones that slow or shut down functions not needed for survival (such as our digestive system), sharpens functions to help us survive (such as eyesight and heart rate), and increases the flow of hormones to an area of the brain known as the amygdala. This helps us focus on the presenting danger and store it in our memory.
IMPACTS OF CHRONIC FEAR
Firstly, chronic fear can have a huge negative impact on our physical health. It weakens our immune system and has been linked to conditions such as cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal problems such as IBS.
As well as this, chronic fear has been shown to impair the formation of long-term memories in some patients, as well as cause damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, which can make it even more difficult for the body to regulate fear. Result? A person feels anxious most of the time as their world looks more scary.
In terms of mental health, fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues, and reflect before acting. This negatively impacts our thinking and decision-making leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions.
Other consequences of long-term fear include fatigue, clinical depression, and PTSD.
HOW TO MANAGE FEAR
Be in the present moment through mindful meditation: Sit quietly and observe the present moment. If fear or anxiety arises, recognise it. How does it feel in your body? Does is spark any associated thoughts? Don’t get involved in the story, or try to get rid of it or change it. Just sit with it, in the knowledge it will pass. And when you need to, take a break, focus on your hands and breathing, or take a walk. Practice regularly to improve your ability to recognise and resolve fear.
Focus on healthy control and positivity: Stress-hardy people are good at focusing their energy on situations that are in their control rather than those that are beyond it. Create a list of simple goals that are in your power to achieve, and recognise your achievements. Practice gratitude daily to remind yourself of the good things in your life.
Connect with nature: Research has shown that being in nature reduces fear and anxiety and increases pleasant feelings. As people look at a scene of natural beauty, they describe feelings using words such as calm, beauty, happiness and hope. Being connected to nature not only makes people feel better emotionally, it reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones — all signals of stress and fear.
Get help: Fear can cause us to feel disconnected from others, but don’t be afraid to ask for support. Friends and family, as well as trained therapists, can help us make a realistic assessment of the threat. With the support of others, we feel more confident that we can deal with issues. And physically, having a loved one close calms us and reduces the fight or flight response.
Finally, even if you are challenged by fear, don’t ignore other parts of your life. It is possible to find wellbeing in relationships and purpose even while working on security. And of course, POD is here to support you and offers affordable and convenient physical and mental wellbeing!