Better Understand Fear so You Can Conquer It Hard
(Inside: If you better understand fear, then you can conquer it. What is fear? Why do get stuck living in fear? What causes fear? Learn the answer to these questions and more.)
“Anyone for Iceland?”
My grandma’s words woke me. She’d let my sister and I sleep in her bed, while she took the pull out couch. It was a small gesture of love, making sure we got a good night’s sleep before our long series of plane rides from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Keflavik, Iceland.
My father, an Air Force pilot, had received his orders for Iceland while we were living in sunny New Mexico. That was almost a year ago. Since then, we’d packed our things and moved to live with my Colorado Springs family. My mom, two siblings and I had moved in with my uncle (my mom’s brother) temporarily, while my dad was in Iceland waiting for a house on base to open up.
Three months had passed and the big day was finally here…we were about to board a plane and go see my dad and our new home. I felt excitement…and fear…
The fear I felt
Even though I moved often, had already lived overseas once with my family, and felt safe with my parents around, I still foster fears about moving to a small island in the middle of nowhere. A very cold “nowhere” at that.
What do we do if we get sick? Or hurt? Where do we shop? What other 7th graders live in Iceland? Will I make friends? What about church? Are there English-speaking movie theaters? What in the world is Iceland like?
How my dad help me conquer fear
We stepped off the plane in Keflavik, Iceland onto the snowy runway. I’d never unboarded a plane outside. After walking inside the terminal, I ran into my dad’s arms – together again. But nerves still tightened my chest.
We all piled into my dad’s little red and white Dodge colt. My dad began giving us a tour of the military base. The hospital looked like a good size – there were even doctors in it. A small mall (The Viking’s Mall) housed some stores, a place to eat and even an arcade. We drove past the school, confirming that other junior high kids lived here. And there were two options for a church: protestant or catholic. “Protestant” would work, check. Then, a theater sat in the middle of it all, showing pictures about 6 months to a year after their release date – English speaking movie, though.
As I drove around and got to know the military base, I saw the small American community that had settled in. My anxiety eased.
Now, you might now be moving to a different country, but you still have fears. I know as an adult, I do. I’ve fought fear my whole life. But, something that’s helped me is getting to know the science behind fear. How it works in our minds and bodies. Why, overall, it’s good that we have fear. What fear is telling us? And steps to take when we feel afraid.
Let’s dive in…
To conquer fear, we need to understand fear
So what is fear? Let’s tour how fear works in our bodies and minds. How Stuff Works explains fear well:
“Fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles, among other things, also known as the fight-or-flight response.
The fear response is almost entirely autonomic: We don’t consciously trigger it or even know what’s going on until it has run its course.”
Friends, we can’t always control fear. It’s an automatic response that alerts us that there might be danger. Feeling fear is natural…and healthy.
Why fear is our friend…
Years ago, I saw an episode of Oprah that made an impact on me. A sweet family’s little girl couldn’t feel physical pain. “Wow, lucky girl! Right?” No. Not at all. Because the girl couldn’t feel pain, she’d “poked out her eye, chewed her skin raw and bit her tongue until it bled.”
If we didn’t feel fear, we would skip our annual mammograms, we’d let our two-year-old cross the street by herself, and we’d never apply for that higher-paying job. Y’all. Fear is a good thing. It is a gift that keeps us safe, keeps our loved ones safe and challenges us to dig deep and show the world what we’re capable of. Dear ones – fear is our friend.
What fear feels like
But, fear doesn’t feel like our friend. Here’s what science says fear does to our bodies:
- Sweat – Your body is cooling down.
- Increased heart rate – The hormone epinephrine is released so blood goes to the parts of the body needed to react to fear.
- Shortness of breath – Around your chest, the nerves are on high alert, causing tightening.
- Dry throat – fluids are diverted from the mouth to other areas your body where the fluids are needed to fight the threat.
- Rational thinking decreases – “Blood flow decreases to your brain’s frontal lobe, which is responsible for logical thinking and planning, and the deeper, more animalistic parts of your brain—including the amygdala—take over.” (Source – UW Medicine)
What fear is telling us
Fear is a signal from our bodies to pay attention. A primal instinct that we might be in danger, our kids might be in trouble – fear is designed to keep us safe.
But, like the video above said, our bodies don’t know the difference between real danger (wolves) and not a real danger (public speaking). It reacts the same to both.
So, when we feel fear – we can let it remind us to quit looking around and instead look up to our powerful God who’s proven over-and-over he plays a protective, always-for-us role in our lives.
Fear can work for us – like a friend, fear reminds us to stop and connect with God.
Conquer fear – Steps to take when you’re afraid
But in the heat of a fear-induced anxiety attack, our brains don’t think correctly. So here are some steps to take that will help fear work for us and get us to our next right step:
1. Take a deep breath and say a prayer
(Maybe recite one of these 65+ verses to help ease your fears.)
2. If you can’t see straight after step one’s calming practice, distract yourself in a healthy way until you are calm.
- Take a walk or exercise
- Watch mindless television
- Go to bed early
- Read a book
- Just keep your mind off you problem and focus on feeling better
3. Acknowledge your fear and peel back the layers. Ask these questions:
- Is this fear rational or irrational?
- What am I most afraid of and could I problem-solve that worst-case scenerio?
- What’s the probability that my worst-case scenerio is going to happen?
- What can I learn from this fear?
4. Look for the next right step
- Pray – Ask God to show you the next right step and expect he will..
- Be wise – Know that God most often only gives us the next right step. He’s how he works. (Read here for more examples of how God responds to those who fear in the Bible.)
- Find one solution – Every problem has a solution, maybe not a perfect one, but one that can ease the pain of the situation. Focus on finding one solution. (For example, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, my sister and I made a cancer-fighting kit for her. It was full of movies and books and hot tea. All things to get her through chemo.)
- Take action – Remember action is an antidote to fear. Make a small move, see if it feels right, reassess and move again.
You fear your future, but God is in your future
Friends, those things that we are afraid will happen to us or to a loved one. Those things we fear because we don’t know the future…
But we know this: God is in our future.
God who created us. God who loves us beyond measure. God who repeatedly shows us he is for us. (Read proof of this here) That magnificent God is in our future.
I feared moving so far away from America. And there were moments when living in Iceland wasn’t easy and it didn’t feel like God was near. But looking back, I see it as a sacred time when even in the difficulties, God was fighting for my family, holding us together.
The next time you fear, make fear work for you…
Because you know fear – you know it makes your heart race, your palms sweaty and your thinking fuzzy. So, you know to step away and calm down. You also know to give fear the attention it’s demanding. You can let fear remind you to go to the ultimate source of power to help you unravel your thoughts and make wise decisions. But, then shake it off…
Because you don’t have to fear…God’s already ahead of you working in your life, in ways that one day you’ll look back and say, “Yes, God – I saw you there.”