Fear is a survival instinct. We have evolved so much faster as a species than our brain has evolved. The brain reacts the same way to being chased by a tiger as it does to losing a client, or a boss wanting to have a private conversation. This is why we feel fear so intensely.
We recently held a roundtable on the topic of fear where Paulina Caprio, a Mentor at The Junto Institute, shared her experiences with sitting with fear and allowing it to pass, being intentional and mindful of what is happening in our bodies when facing fear, and enabling self-compassion as an alternative to our negative narratives.
Our bodies respond to fear with a fight-or-flight response: adrenaline and cortisol are released and we either move into action or we’re paralyzed. This is a very emotionally expensive process for our bodies. Science tells us that the fight-or-flight response of the limbic, or emotional, part of the brain will override the neocortex, or rational/thinking part of the brain. If we know that parts of our brain will override rationality and create fear, what can we do to walk with this fear?
Paulina discussed two essential aspects of walking with fear: intentionality and compassion. Being intentional and mindful of what happens when we are feeling afraid or inadequate allows us to identify how we feel and choose what to do with those feelings. Having self-compassion and kindness for ourselves provides an alternative to the negative narratives. We have to accept our authentic selves as we are right now to accept and respond to our feelings of fear or inadequacy.
In order to be intentional, Paulina discussed the importance of noticing where the fear is sitting inside of us and where it is coming from. Some people may find fear manifests itself in a racing mind, or poor sleep, or an intense feeling of sharpness in the chest. Identifying how fear presents itself in our bodies will allow us to recognize when we are having these feelings. Once we are able to notice, then we can choose. It is virtually impossible to choose if we can’t notice the fear, because it will go right by.
The more we understand the science behind how the brain works, the more powerful we become in using it. We can choose how we react and respond to fear and train ourselves to employ the neocortex brain when facing fear, giving us the power of choice. And the more we exercise that choice, the more it becomes a practice and a habit. Through intentionality and compassion we can identify fear, notice our feelings, choose how to respond and ultimately, walk with fear.