Fear Is Not Your Frienemy (even if it feels like she’s ripping your heart out)

Right now, as we do our best to carry on living our lives amidst incredible uncertainty, one of the overwhelming emotions is fear. 

And of course, this is completely natural – why wouldn’t we feel fearful?  

Our families, communities, careers, our economy are all disjointed.  The things that we have always relied on for stability, predictability and reassurance have been shattered – of course they are still there, but we can’t quite access them.  

Not the way we need to, anyway.

And this is scary.  It undermines our confidence, our capacity to feel ‘on top of things’ and our ability to show up every day, as our best selves.

Fear is normal.

But, it does not have to be your frienemy (definition: an enemy, cleverly disguised as a friend).

Fear exists for a reason.  It is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect living things from perceived threats to their integrity or existence. Fear may be as simple as the cringe of an antenna in a snail that is touched, or as complex as existential anxiety in a human (or in this case, Coronaxiety)




The REALLY interesting thing about the fear reaction in our bodies is that it is very similar to our experience of excitement (biologically speaking). Studies suggest that a major factor in how we experience fear has to do with the context. When our thinking brain gives feedback to our emotional brain and we perceive ourselves as safe, we can quickly shift the way we experience that high arousal state, going from one of fear to one of enjoyment or excitement (2013, Maren,S., Phan,K. & Liberzon,I. The contextual brain: implications for fear conditioning, extinction and psychopathology)

This means that if we become highly attuned to our own inner world, we can start to take control of our emotions.  If we get really well acquainted with our self-talk (our thinking brain), then we can start to make some shifts that will impact the way we feel and experience our life (our emotional brain).

Sounds simple enough.  But … how?




Before we can influence the type of experience we have, we must delve into our thinking brain and try to understand the current state of play.  

Self awareness is the first step in changing your experience of fear.  

How do YOU know when you’re in a fear state?  What happens inside your body?  Your mind?  It’s different for everyone and so important for you to get to know your own personal fear situation.

You may have heard about the fight or flight (and the recently added, freeze) description of the fear response.  Which one do you tend to favour when in an uncomfortable situation?

Some of the common physical reactions to fear include:

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • hot flushes or chills
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • a choking sensation
  • rapid heartbeat
  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • a sensation of butterflies in the stomach
  • nausea
  • headaches and dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • dry mouth
  • a need to rush to the toilet
  • ringing in your ears

Do any of these sound familiar?

And then, there are the less talked-about behavioural reactions to fear, sometimes called defensive behaviours.  When you anticipate or experience a threat – what do you do?  How do you communicate?  What happens to your tone and volume of voice?  How do your posture and gestures change?  What happens to your general demeanor?

Here are some of the common behavioural reactions to fear:

  • Loss of humor
  • Taking offense
  • Wanting to be right 
  • Wanting the last word
  • Flooding with information to prove your point
  • Endless explaining and rationalising
  • Playing ‘poor me’
  • Teaching or preaching
  • Rigidity (closed to other opinions)
  • Denial
  • Withdrawal into silence
  • Cynicism
  • Sarcasm
  • Making fun of others
  • Being critical of others
  • Terminal uniqueness “I’m so special; rules don’t apply to me”
  • Thinking or saying “It’s just my personality. It’s just how I am.”
  • Not wanting to negotiate
  • Blaming
  • Sudden onset of illness or accident
  • Confusion
  • Suddenly tired or sleepy
  • Eccentricity
  • Being overly nice




Take a quick moment now to check in with yourself.  Recall a recent scenario where you felt fear (this may or may not be Covid related).  You may not have labelled it fear at the time – maybe you were irritable, frustrated, angry, overly-analytical.  Try to be really honest with yourself and hone in on that time when you genuinely felt fear.

Now, refer to the lists of physical and behavioural fear responses above.  Which ones applied to you?  Be really honest with yourself here.  If it’s not immediately clear, you can use these lists to refer to over the next week.

This week, your task is to OBSERVE yourself when in a state of fear.  Use your journal to record your physical and behavioural reactions.  This will build your self awareness and the foundation on which to create a fear-busting strategy. 

More on this next week.

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