Telling someone to stop worrying is like stabbing someone and telling them to stop bleeding. Whilst a stab wound can be dealt with using medical procedures that will eventually fix it, fears are not so simple. They are more like understanding all of science – especially the difficult bits. Similarly to learning about quantum mechanics, special relativity, electromagnetism (and so on), coping with fear and anxiety is a process that you must strive to improve over time, but most probably will never fully master.
As you may have noticed from the title of this blog, fear is a major theme and I have a lot to say on the topic. The name of the site, Great Big Scary World, is somewhat satirical as the ultimate aim is to see a great, big, wonderful world full of opportunity, rather than being limited by fear.
WHAT IS FEAR?
Fear is a finely tuned, self-defence mechanism that has evolved to keep us safe and protect us from danger. Fear should not be eradicated because without it we would be incapable of looking after ourselves – a fascinating case study of a woman who feels no fear emerged recently and it was quite scary (how ironic) how vulnerable the woman was because of her inability to feel fear.
There are two types of fear:
- Good Fear: Good fear is the kind of fear that makes the hairs on your neck prick up as you sense an imminent threat to your being, causing you to take survival action. We call it good fear because it is good and we want it in our lives. Good fear stops you from stroking bears because bear teeth are sharp and their jaws are strong.
- Bad Fear: Bad fear is sneaky because it feels like good fear, so we stop doing what we are doing, but rather than keeping us safe, it prevents us from making changes in our lives that would be beneficial. We call it bad fear because it limits us and makes us unhappy. Bad fear stops you leaving a job you hate and a lover you don’t love because you don’t know what you will find on the other side.
Thus the aim here is not to eradicate fear, but rather to manage fear and learn to tell the difference between good fear and bad fear. It is understandable that bad fear appears when we consider life changes because change concerns the unknown and we are afraid of what we do not know (death, the dark, viruses we can’t see, etc). We must choose to listen to good fear and act accordingly, but be brave when facing bad fear.
What is bravery? Bravery is not an absence of fear – rather it is having the courage to cope with the fear by deciding that something else is more important than the fear itself. I have always been a fearful individual, but a few years ago I decided to start hitchhiking around Europe by myself, living in a tent and on the couches of strangers. I chose to do this because the positive outcome (thousands of wonderful interactions with strangers, innumerable experiences that will stay with me for my life, and the ability to travel without money) outweighed the risk of what might happen. Yes, things could have gone wrong, but the chances were minimal, thus I hit the road powered by a thumb.
I can’t condense a 120,000 word book into a single sentence, but in The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World (which could be a useful read if you suffer from fears like me), I rationalise that one must cope with fear rather than trying to defeat it:
“Fear is a little pink ghost that has the ability to change into any form more terrifying than your worst nightmares could even dream up. He can cripple you, taking everything. When he is around, you are falling constantly, a bottomless journey of no end. You have three choices of how you can deal with this little pink ghost. Firstly, you can run and you can hide. He will always be chasing you, he will always be looking for you. One day he will find you. Secondly, you can punch him in the face. Fear roars at you, you roar right back. It is a simple matter of who roars loudest. And lastly, you can embrace him and you can hold his hand. You walk with fear and you accept him for the little pink ghost that he is, always knowing that he is there, but keeping him in your sight.”
The topic of coping with fear and anxiety is huge, and to read more on it, please head to my page about coping with fear and anxiety. I haven’t addressed anxiety much on this page, but I delve deeper into it on the other page.
I’m going to address fear here mostly, but I include the term anxiety as well because to me, anxiety means a continuing and unexplained experiencing of fear that causes an ongoing sense of discomfort. You know when you dream that you’re falling and there is that horrible rush before you hit the ground? Well, imagine you don’t stop falling and you keep feeling that rush of fear, but you don’t know when it will end – that is how anxiety feels to me (although everyone is different).
You are scared? Of course you are scared. The whole world is scared of something. Fear is a natural emotion that is designed to keep us safe, to protect us from danger. We need not eradicate fear, because without it, we would be incapable of looking after ourselves. Being brave is not an absence of fear, it is having the courage to overcome it by deciding that something else is more important than the fear itself.
As a race, we fear change because it takes us into the unknown. Every old person will tell you that their world was a better place than the world in which we live today. It’s not true. Their world was no better or worse than the world that we live in today. It was different. If someone no longer understands the world that they are living in, it is unknown and becomes scary. Of course it is natural that they prefer the world from before, they understood it better. Sometimes when people think of travelling to far-flung destinations, they imagine the world to be very inhospitable, thus they are afraid. It is true that the world is a very diverse place. But with an open mind, change is neither guaranteed to be better nor worse. Instead, we are offered the chance for a different perspective on the world. From these differences, we gain experiences and we learn.
At this moment in time, travel, the movement of people, is occurring on an unprecedented scale that has never been seen before on this Earth. Media offers us insights into different cultures and almost wherever you go in the world, people will speak English. Globally, people of the world are more accustomed to each other than ever before throughout all of history. We are no longer tribes that fight with each other upon contact. Instead, we are slowly becoming one nation, one planet. The world has never been so ready for you to travel through, as it is at this very moment in time.
Not only is the world ready, but you yourself can become ready. Use global media to observe educated opinions. It is both a blessing and a curse in relation to people’s fears. The internet gives us the opportunity to learn about different places in the world from the people who live there. There exist countries that have heavy internet usage restrictions, but this aside, almost anyone can voice an opinion. With a little bit of effort, you can obtain unfettered opinions of wherever it is that you want to go. The news however, is a different story. Everyday it is blasted into our homes and after watching one episode, you will be convinced that the world is a corrupt and terrifying place. The reality of the world is that many more terrible things have been going on throughout history. With modern journalism, it is simply easier to see them.
It is imperative to not take these snapshots of the news world at face value. You have to dig a lot deeper. The news is intended to keep
you informed of major events around the world. These are the bad events that show the very worst parts of human nature. What would be a fairer judgment of human civilisation, would be to have three types of news. The good news, the bad news, and the news that happened that was neither good nor bad. The problem is that the majority of people are drawn by macabre stories featuring sadness and suffering. These are the stories that get reactions, so these are the stories that the news channels keep plugging. In recent years however, there has been a shift away from traditional media as individuals now realise that they can choose what and who they listen to on the internet instead of having to rely upon traditional sources of information. Never before have we had this opportunity.
The most important thing that you need to know about the world if you are scared, is that it is not such a great big scary world when you break it down into pieces. It is in fact, a collection of individuals no different from you or I. Every individual has their own fears, hopes, and dreams. Only when you take the time to speak to other people from around the world, can you start to see that no matter the skin colour, the religion, or the language that an individual speaks, we are all the same. An individual’s capacity for evil is much lower than what we are led to believe by movies and the news. The world is not out to get you. Of course, there are things in the world that go wrong. Statistically however, you are thousands of times more likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, or a freak accident that by the maliciousness of another human being. If you want something to be scared of, be wary of your burger and fizzy drink. Delicious as they are (they really are), they are proven to kill you. Albeit very slowly. When you start to rationalise fears, you realise that going out into the world isn’t any more dangerous than staying where you are right now. Even decreased levels of sanitation can, in the long run, benefit your health by strengthening your immune system.
By sitting in a locked room and cutting yourself off from the world, you would only start to worry more. This worry would cause stress and one day your body wouldn’t be able to take it. The biggest way to get over your fears is to prioritise what is most important. Your dreams or the fears that stop you from following them.
Remain wary of heights because you don’t want to fall to your death. But try sky diving safe in the knowledge that you are strapped onto a trained instructor.
Equally, do not march into a war zone. But switch off the news and read a fair report about a country before you write it off as a dangerous part of the world. In every problematic area, the problems are isolated. They are not generic to a whole nation. As every cloud has a silver lining, so too does civilisation. In fact, when you look a little closer, you see that the majority of people are inherently good to one another by nature. It is a select few who manipulate and control the evil in this world. Do not let these few be representative of a nation’s people. Do not judge an individual by his politicians and hope above hope, he does the same for you.
A few years ago, fear was my biggest personal issue and it is still something of great significance to me. As a child, germs, Christianity, dinosaurs, ghosts, the dark, orange moss, cannibals, the blue van in the forest, older people, talking to people, sharks, knives, dirty taps, and things I saw on the news all terrified me. This is just the beginning of my list. It goes on for quite a while.
During dinner as a child, I couldn’t get through a meal without getting up to wash my hands five or ten times because even the air I touched was dirty. When I turned off the tap, I would have to do so with the inside of my t-shirt in order to prevent becoming contaminated by the tap germs. My fears were crippling. They controlled me.
I know what it feels like to be scared. Fear takes time to overcome.
A few years ago, I spent the winter living on a mountain. Out of over 70 people working in the ski resort, I was awarded a prize for being ’the most fearless person on the mountain.’ I am not fearless. Instead, I am trying hard to rationalise my fears. It inspired me to create GreatBigScaryWorld.com .
Think of what you are scared of. Then look a little closer and assess how rational you are really being. If you are scared of a particular area of the world, look up where the danger lies and how dangerous that place really is. Be fair to it and don’t succumb to prejudice. Then you can make an informed decision. From a person who has suffered heavily from the constraints of fear, I have learnt not to be afraid and to consider my fears with rational logic so that I can throw them out the window. Or at least hold them behind the glass.
Take your fears and learn how to manage them. The only thing that can stop us from achieving our dreams, is the fear of failure. A fear that is contained entirely within ourselves. Do as I did and learn that the world is not such a scary place.
Fear, cannot define you. There is a great big wonderful world for you to see.