Breaking Down Fear
By Roald Watterson
It is widely believed that we are born with only three fears: fear of loud noises, fear of falling, and fear of abandonment. These, according to some psychologists, are hardwired into our nature; all others are acquired. Fear of spiders, fear of the dark, fear of dentists, and the rest are programmed into our psyche through either firsthand experience or information we take in.
Fear is a vital response to danger. If, when walking down a dark unfamiliar street at night, your pulse quickens, your breathing becomes shallow, and you feel a tingling at the nape of your neck, that’s your brain sending signals to your body that you may be in harm’s way. You decide to turn onto a brightly lit street, or to slip into a store and call someone to pick you up.
Fears generally fall into two categories: legitimate fears—those that warn of a genuine threat, either physical or emotional—and unfounded fears that are born of one’s imagination and have little or no basis in reality. The trouble is, our brains have difficulty telling the two apart and will often react to both in the same way: increased activity in the brain’s amygdala area (The amygdala has been called the seat of emotion) activates our fight-or-flight response.
One method therapists use to help a person overcome fear is through controlled exposure to whatever is causing the fear response, such as heights or spiders. When the fear is not realized—in other words, when the feared consequence repeatedly does not take place—the mind is retrained to not react in fear when confronted by the supposed threat.
Other fears are harder to overcome because they are not tied to a physical situation or agent. Rather, they are internal, having to do with worry and insecurity. Analyzing them to separate reality from misperception usually helps, and our greatest source of understanding, comfort, and relief from such fears is God Himself. When we have the assurance that He has our best interests at heart, stands with us in the present, has planned our future, and promises that all things will turn out for good in the end, (See Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28) it puts things in perspective and fears recede.
God has provided relief from both types of fear through a personal connection with Him. We make that connection through prayer, and we strengthen it by reading and studying God’s Word, believing His promises to us therein, and applying them in our daily lives. The more we learn to turn to and depend on God, the more He is able to help us overcome our fears.
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