Fear Factor

I was a weird kid. I used to watch horror movies in the dark on my own and then afterwards I’d sit there and think about all the horrible things that could happen to me. And I enjoyed it. What a fucking weird kid. However, it turns out most of you lot were just as weird, because as children, we like to scare ourselves.

Clearly, I grew up, because now I can’t watch a creepy flick without every light on, several close friends and a strategically placed makeshift weapon. So why, as children, do we revel in the fright and for most of us, as adults, why do we get the ‘fear’?

Fear produces some interesting reactions in our brains. It floods us with adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine – a concoction that can feel truly euphoric, especially once your brain recognises you aren’t in any real danger. All your left with is a heightened sense of excitement, a fluttering heart and happiness in the knowledge that you are indeed safe. Watching a horror movie, going on a rollercoaster, or playing an adolescent game of Ouija; it’s all controllable, we put ourselves in that position to feel a ‘safe’ fright. And as children we do so unincumbered by much reality*.

As an adult, suddenly life happens. Shit gets real. Fears are no longer about monsters and fake blood. The world feels truly scary at times and often it doesn’t feel controllable. And herein lies the rub – fear doesn’t feel great as an adult, but you need to feel fear to survive.

Fear is healthy. It’s hardwired into our brains for a very good reason. Fear can be stimulated in our brains from a variety of things, some of which are arguably evolutionary such as a fear of heights or being in open bodies of water. We need these fears to support our survival. The capacity to feel fear is part of our brain’s function and helps us process the world around us and keep ourselves safe.

In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “Fear is wisdom in the face of danger, it is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Fear is not always automatic though. It is part instinct, part learned, and part taught. Pain is linked to an instinctive fear, as pain reminds us of our mortality, but what about the fear of losing your business? That isn’t instinctual. It is made up of learned behaviours from experiences and taught ideas from other people’s experiences – social norms, attitudes, media etc. This is why we can develop fears and phobias of something we have never had any experience of before. But this also means, we can learn how not to be so afraid. We can teach ourselves, to feel less fear in situations – especially fears that have been learnt or taught to us.

One way we can do this, and it’s one that I frequently use when I’m fearful about something to do with my business, is to acknowledge, voice and choose.

I acknowledge the fear, not just feel it. I consciously say ‘hello’ to it in my head. Then I voice the fear. If I have someone to voice it to, then I do that, but if I’m on my own, I go to a mirror or sit still for a moment and say my fear out loud. I talk it through, explain why I feel afraid and challenge myself to do so loudly – because I’m going to be timid in the face of this, because in this moment, I am safe. Then, I choose. I choose that I want to be done with it – I’m bored of it; I’m so over feeling afraid. I choose instead to think about my fear rationally, not reactionarily. I will work to process my fear and not let it determine my decisions.

When I do all that, I feel in control of my fear – it’s not quite me sitting alone in the dark avidly watching a faceless monster terrorise a screaming teen on a wonky VHS, but it’s my adult way of getting a kick out of it nonetheless.

*I recognise that this isn’t every child’s experience. Not every child feels protected and safe in their home and my aim with this blog isn’t to upset anyone who has personal experiences with this. There are networks and services available to people who want and need support. NAPAC is just one example, and can help people find the support they need.

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