Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

How to Conquer Fear – (It’s Easy!)

After almost thirty years as a litigator, and having gone through many conflicts in my life as well as the ups and downs of having money and not having money I feel like I know something about fear. I have been attacked by a gang and beaten, fallen off buildings, been run over by livestock and bucked off horses too many times to count. I have had surgery four times. I have been divorced twice. I went to the emergency room so many times in my childhood I could have starred on Home Improvement. I have seen my children in intensive care several times and have been told that they were a psychiatric risk. I quit being a lawyer to pursue a career in alternative medicine without any idea of how to do that. Fear has constantly been in my life and it was only through years of mindfulness and study have I found how to escape the suffering and misery fear brings to our lives.

The first thing to understand is that fear is always about the future. We fear losing something we have or we fear not getting something we want. Either way, it is created by our mind when we feel that we are going to lose (or lose out on) something. Fear was a mindset that originally intended to get us out of harms way. We learned from experience when we were about to be harmed. When we evolved from threats of lions, raptors and other life threatening circumstances we did not address the self-defense mechanism of fear. So our minds randomly or irrationally create fear whenever we are stressed or believe that something may happen.

The second thing to understand is that there is rational fear and irrational fear. Rational fear arises when we have evidence that something bad is going to happen. We are at war, we walk through a dangerous place, we get sick, or we get sued. These are real events that experience tells us may result in harm. Irrational fear is fear that has no discernable source. We don’t know why we are afraid, in fact we fantasize or imagine events that aren’t happening but could happen. This is the ego, the mind creating a situation that is self-perpetuating and requires us to think and to analyze. In other words, our minds create imaginary scenarios that require us to use the mind.

When we are experiencing fear, we quit breathing. We hold our breath or we breathe very shallowly. This reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to our brain and shuts down our frontal cortex. We resort to emotional thinking that makes us freeze, flee or fight. Logic and reason are in the frontal cortex of the brain that has shut down due to lack of oxygen. So the first thing we have to do is to breathe deeply and slowly. We have to get oxygen back to our frontal cortex so we can make a reasoned assessment of whether our fear is rational or irrational. If it is rational, we can take steps to deal with the circumstances creating the fear. If it is irrational, the more we breathe the more likely the fear will subside.

The second thing we have to do is get back into a state of gratitude. We have to say thank you for everything we have and don’t have. Fear cannot exist at the same time as gratitude (or love). When we are grateful, we eliminate the negative emotions of denial, guilt or shame. When we are grateful, we don’t freeze, fight or want to run away. When we are grateful, we are able to put everything into proper perspective and the illusions quickly disappear.

I had a conversation with a friend recently that was going through a break up with their lover and my friend was afraid that he would never find love again. In other words he was struggling with whether he should stay in an unhealthy relationship that he knew or leave it to find something better. His mind was imagining all sorts of scenarios that included “it was all his fault”, “I will never be loved” and “I am a bad person”. All of these were illusions that his mind was throwing in his face to make him think harder. All I had to do was have him take a few deep breaths and tell me all of the things he was grateful for in his life and he quickly became calm and grounded.

When we are “in the heat of the moment” it is sometimes difficult to remember these simple steps. When we are up to our ass in alligators it is sometimes difficult to remember that our initial objective was to drain the swamp. This is our mind at work. When we get proper levels of oxygen to our brain and focus on gratitude, it is like shining a spotlight on a shadow and we see there is nothing really there to harm us. It is just life. Breathing and being grateful works for everything that causes suffering or misery in our life. Life is not that difficult and is quite simple really. Let’s enjoy it.