You probably don’t need me to tell you that right now fear is on the rise. The fear of coronavirus, of food shortages, of economic failure… the fear of running out of toilet paper.

I recently saw a post from someone who was more afraid of running out of toilet paper than of the virus: I don’t mind dying, but I pray my arse is clean. Fear often provokes this kind of irrational response.

There are actually two kinds of fear: rational and irrational.

Rational fears are based on animal intuition, on life-saving instincts: that moment when a sabre-toothed tiger appears on the jungle path ahead of you, and your T-shirt reads ‘lunch’… that moment when the tsunami warning sounds and you head for higher ground.

Acronyms

The fears doing the rounds are not that kind. They aren’t fears of what’s actually happening, they’re fears of what might happen.

The word ‘fear’ is often decoded as False Evidence Appearing Real.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar goes further: it’s either Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. Fear gives us a choice. But how, precisely, do we face everything and rise?

Mechanics

Let’s look at the emotional mechanics fear.

While rational fears are based on reality, irrational fears are based on what-ifs. While rational fears arise instinctively, irrational fears arise intellectually. While our instincts are rooted in the now, the intellect obsesses over the future.

Because the cold, calculating intellect is our default thinking method, when we come under stress our mind goes into risk assessment mode to determine what dangers we face.

Result: the mind flies into a panic as it tries to assess—and develop counter-strategies for—all manner of statistically improbable scenarios. If you’re unable to rein in this process, panic sets in as one unlikely fear builds upon another.

Wolf to water

There is a place within us that is beyond fear. It’s that intuitive sense—part of our animal instincts—that leads the wolf to water or impels the early bird to get the worm.

There is a place within us that is beyond fear. It’s that intuitive sense—part of our animal instincts—that leads the wolf to water or impels the early bird to get the worm.

It’s the flip side of the part of us that protects us from rational fears. In our intellect-centric society, we have lost touch with our own protective biology.

Here lies the key to calming irrational fears.

This requires four simple steps:

1. Breathe

Deeply, regularly, rhythmically… Fill your lungs, then your belly until your diaphragm is comfortably extended—no more. Release and repeat.

Your breath connects you to the endless ebb and flow of nature, away from the endless machinations of what self-empowerment author Stuart Wilde calls the ‘tick-tock mind’.

2. Awareness

Shift your awareness from your intellect to your breath. Follow the breath as it comes in, fills you up like a wave at high tide then flows out.

In, out. In, out.

Your intellect will want your awareness to come back to all the panicky thinking and worst-case scenarios it’s got going on. Resist. DO NOT go back there. Keep your awareness on your breath, no matter how insistent your intellect gets.

This is the hard step.

3. Release

Take the fear-mongering going on in your mind, bundle it up as you inhale—you can even imagine it going into a rubbish sack—and… as you exhale, let go.

4. Repeat

This process is easy but, initially, it can be hard to sustain. You do a couple of breaths just fine. Just as you think, “I’ve got this,” you find that your mind has invented some new doomsday scenario and you’re back in panic mode.

When did your awareness shift from your breath back to your intellect? You have no idea—yet it clearly did. That moment is the shift between unconscious fear and conscious mastery. Conquering that subliminal shift is your goal.

Mastering fear is like learning to walk. No matter how many times you fall down, you get up again. It’s how you learned to walk. And it’s how you can master fear.

Daiga Ellaby