Want to really live, with awesome stories? Managing fear is key.
There is something really alluring about a life well-lived. And there is nothing more compelling than someone re-counting an event that left an emotional mark on them, be it good or bad.
All of our really interesting stories are earned outside of our comfort zones or in spontaneous circumstances. So if you want to continue to amass stories to tell, you need to stay open and courageous. As we get older, we have a tendency to become more fearful. We have had more scary encounters or seen more news stories about what can go wrong. We have more to lose, very often, and as we age we can feel more vulnerable.
We thus tend to expose ourselves less to risk as we get older and that becomes a self-fulfilling loop. The less you step outside of your comfort zone, the more scary it becomes. If we travel we might do so with a tightly planned itinerary or as part of an organised group. We allow the spontaneous less and less for therein lies risk. Consequently our stories can lose their lustre.
There is no reason why we should get more fearful with age. In many ways, our experience and greater resources make us better equipped to deal with risk. Moreover experiences and spontaneity make us feel more vital and alive, which in turn encourage us to feel younger and our bodies to feel they have purpose. It is the principle of eustress or good stress. A little bit of challenge and fear is a good thing.
So as we age, it’s a good idea to stay on top of fear. Managing fear is threefold. Firstly, we have to understand what triggers fear for us, where this come from and what we’re really afraid of. Secondly, we need to gain some degree of control over our nervous system by strengthening the frontal cortex. This is the rational part of you that can talk away your irrational fears. And thirdly we need to build our relaxation muscle – ie the vagus nerve – so it can match the strength of the sympathetic nervous system. In other words when you encounter a challenging thought or situation you’re not on a hair-trigger and can manage your breath, heart rate and restore calm equilibrium quickly.
All meditation practices will with managing fear.
In meditation you gain greater self-awareness of your fears, where they stem from and what is really at play. For example I have a huge fear of public speaking which is undoubtedly a fear of public humiliation, and ultimately an ego issue. Meditation builds the “witness” or frontal cortex, the newer part of us that can assess how legitimate a fear is. We’ve all had to use this capacity recently when managing our tolerable risk levels in a Covid setting. And meditation builds parasympathetic nervous strength so the sympathetic nervous system isn’t always running the show. It shouts louder but we start to see through its bluster.
When fear is holding me back I like to meditate and, as I start to hit deeper states of consciousness, explore the issue or, at least, just drop the issue into the mix. Sometimes if I can’t quite put my finger on the core of the fear, I might rate it out of 10, or give it a shape or colour. Sometimes I try to figure out where I feel it in my body. I also find that journaling about it afterwards helps make sense of it.
There is a mudra or hand position that is said to calm the brain’s predictive nature and release fear caused by subconscious memories from the past. If you’re dealing with fear right now, you could try this.
Rest the back of your left hand in the palm of the right hand. Your right thumb nestles in the left palm and your left thumb crosses it. Your right fingers gently curve around the outside of the left hand. Hold this mudra gently at the centre of your chest, palm side resting against your chest. Meditate, following your breath, and witness what happens for as long as you like.