Faith over fear
On Sunday, March 15, 2020, President Trump asked Pastor Jentezen Franklin at Free Chapel in Gainesville, Georgia to lead the country in a National Day of Prayer. This was in response to the growing unease and tension across the nation due to the quickly spreading COVID-19, a strain of the corona virus. Pastor Jentezen said over and over to “choose faith over fear.” It was uplifting and inspirational, but based on my own personal experience, easier said than done.
"Fear is: False Evidence Appearing Real"
We can make irrational decisions when we feel scared. When we hear words like, “death toll rises” and “social distancing”, they strike a primal chord within us that pulses fear throughout our entire body. When President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, March 13, 2020, to help stop the spread of the corona virus, I instinctively jumped into my car and headed to the grocery store.
When I got to the parking lot, it was full of vehicles and anxious people, but no shopping carts. They were usually littered throughout the lot or lined up in orderly fashion inside the corrals. After I found a parking spot, I happened to find a stray, perched on a concrete curb stop, and grabbed it before someone else did. When I walked through the doors, I could feel the fear reverberate inside the already crowded store.
I was expecting to see almost empty shelves and bins, like the fear-mongering news was portraying. Curiously, most of the vegetables and fruits were still there. I did notice that the root vegetable bins were nearly picked clean. So I found myself stocking up on those, plus bananas, apples, and more than we eat on a normal basis.
There was an unusually low hum as I foraged for more food and maneuvered my cart, trying to avoid bumping into other shoppers and carts. As I passed people, I saw basketfuls of bottled water, soda, canned soup, chicken, eggs, milk and ramen. Naked shelves lined the aisles where non-perishable items once sat. Overall, though, the grocery store looked about 75% full.
Fear and the egg lady
One lady got sassy with me when she turned away from her cart and I thought she was done grabbing enough eggs to feed an army. I politely motioned with my hand for her to get ahead of me so she can move her cart. She replied curtly, “I’m not finished yet.” So I just ignored her and grabbed my own single carton of eggs and continued shopping. As I walked along, I judged her for succumbing to fear and following the herd.
Fear and logic
Then I looked down at my own cart and saw it overflowing with food. I hadn't realized that I, too, was walking around in a subdued frenzy and mindlessly stockpiling for an apocalypse. Up until that moment, I thought I was a thinking, rational human being. My fear of going hungry had usurped my apt for reason and logic.
The impact of my behavior had not settled in until I got home and had to find a place to put everything. I asked myself, was it really necessary to go out and purchase more than we needed, in a panic? What can I do next time to avoid making rash, energy-sapping decisions based on fear? Here are 8 tips that I learned to help myself in times of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Fear, and 8 tips to help overcome it.
1. Surrender to the fear
When we are in fear, our brains are hardwired to have a fight or flight response. We can overcome fear by first letting go and surrender. Surrender to God, a higher power, the divine, the universe. It may activate a relaxation response in your body so you don’t even have to react to the fear. Just be still, avoid thinking and let go.
If you don’t know what is causing your fear, just notice it and breathe into it. This redirects your focus on your inward and outward breath. It may calm you right away or may take a while before you overcome your fear. Just be sure you take slow, deep breaths so you don’t hyperventilate and know that the feeling will eventually pass.
Meditation is another tool you can use to overcome fear. The simplest one is just to focus on slow, deep breaths inward into the belly and expelling completely outward. What I like about this one is it can be used anytime and anyplace. It can take you out of the fight or flight response and into the parasympathetic, or relaxation response.
Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and help embrace difficult emotions. One simple technique that you can do practically anywhere is the breathing meditation.
You can practice this for just 5 minutes a day and still reap its benefits. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably. Start breathing gently in and out. When your mind wanders, bring your focus back to your breath.
4. Emotion map
This is one of my favorite ways to help overcome fear or unpleasant emotions. Grab a pen and paper and list all the words related to what you are feeling. For example, when I feel fear, I write it down and then I write afraid, scared, frightened, small, etc.
Then write down what might have triggered it. Was it a thought, image or something you heard?
Next, write down any sensations you feel in your body, such as heart racing, butterflies in stomach, etc. Putting the words on paper allows you to see your emotions without attaching any thoughts to them and loosens their grip as well.
5. Step away from the fear
Sometimes you need to step away in order to clear your head. You can go for a walk for a few minutes or engage in an activity that will calm your nerves.
This will act as a raft for times when you feel like you can barely keep your head above the rising level of fear. Or times when sitting or lying down are not effective. Focus your mind on the activity until you are in a calmer state and can think and breathe more clearly.
6. Embrace your fear
We tend to run away from things that scare us or are unpleasant. If you are experiencing fear, try embracing it by staying with the emotion. Sit down and be curious about your fear.
Don't attach any thoughts and simply observe what is happening. It may take a few minutes or may be longer, but stay with it. Most of the time, it will subside. Just remember that the emotion doesn't last forever and facing it will help you become more resilient in times of fear.
It may seem strange to focus on gratitude when you're feeling afraid, but it can actually help to redirect your focus and get you out of your ruminating thoughts. Not only this, it fosters compassion for yourself and others.
Try writing 3 things you are grateful for each night. Keep track of what you are feeling as well. See if this can help you refocus and direct your attention out of your head and into the present moment.
8. RAIN METHOD
The RAIN method, created by Tara Brach, is another excellent tool to help you overcome fear or any unpleasant emotion you are experiencing. R.A.I.N. is an acronym for Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Non-identification. Here are the steps:
R-Recognize what is happening
Acknowledge that you are having a fearful or unpleasant emotion. Most of the time, we don’t even recognize the unpleasant emotion we are experiencing, unless we are actively engaged in self-awareness. Listen to your body with loving-kindness.
A-Allow life to be just what it is
Overcome fear by allowing it to pass through you completely. It is very unpleasant and downright uncomfortable, but only temporary.
For instance, a woman is afraid that she will never get married and grow old and lonely. Rather than allow the emotion to pass, she allows herself to be verbally abused by her boyfriend because at least she is not alone. The true source may be deeply rooted in childhood, when her mom lost her at the farmer's market, and she felt fearful and alone.
I-Investigate with kindness
Overcome fear by placing kind attention to what is happening to your body. When you recognize and allow the feeling of fear, you can ask where in your body do you feel it? Is it in your chest? Is your heart pounding quickly? Do you feel butterflies in your stomach? Investigating with kindness allows you to open up to more self-inquiry. For instance, the butterflies in your stomach could really be masking an earlier event in your life that was attached to the original fear.
N-Non-identification, natural loving awareness
Non-identification is non-attachment to any thoughts, beliefs, feelings or emotions. It is your natural state of being. When you strip away the false veneer of the limiting self, the core of your true essence is revealed.
We can overcome fear once we recognize it for what it really is. Most of the time, fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear can feel intense, painful or limiting, but it doesn’t have to overwhelm you. In fact, it can be a catalyst for change when it is not being reinforced in a negative pattern. Instead of making decisions out of fear, we have the capacity and the tools to overcome fear and instead choose faith, kindness and love.
Remember, these tools and practices are not a magic pill that you can swallow to cure your fear. With continuous and gentle effort, however, you will start to see results that will train you to handle your fear in a more productive way. Thanks for reading. Please share your stories or tips on how you have overcome fear or learned a lesson from it.