In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.
We all have moments of fear and when we do it can provide us with valuable information about our circumstances, but only if we can keep ourselves collected and objective enough to evaluate it. We are evolutionarily adapted to self-protect and survive—fight or flight. When we are in a hyper-aroused fear state, our primitive midbrain overrides our rational prefrontal cortex so that we act without thinking. If a snake is about to bite us, this evolutionary fight or flight process of acting without thinking allows our species to survive. However, there are times that our brains assume we have encountered a snake when it’s really only a piece of rope. Knowing whether there is an actual danger (a snake) or an imaginary danger (a rope) takes some mindful attention and skill to evaluate our circumstances in the midst of a hyper-aroused state of mind where the primitive midbrain is kicked into gear.
Here are 5 tips that can help you get through one of these tricky moments:
- Remind yourself: this fear or anxiety is temporary; it will pass.
- Get moving: take a walk or a shower to get your mind focused elsewhere than on your fear.
- Engage your prefrontal cortex: recite the multiplication table, read something aloud, write about something other than fear, recite a poem from memory.
- Stabilize your attention: find 5 things to see, 4 things to touch, 3 things to hear, 2 things to smell, and 1 thing to taste.
- Mindfully observe the physical sensations of the fear (not the thoughts) and examine them in detail without internal judgment or commentary.