This was first published on KSL.COM
Uncertainty is the fear of the unknown, and we are all experiencing that these days.
Fear is triggered when we feel out of control or when someone or something doesn't meet our expectations. We all live with various amounts of fear every day. But when a massive problem like a pandemic happens, it throws our entire society into fear and we can quickly become overwhelmed.
Last week, I interviewed James Purpura, founder of Powerful U and the author of the book "Perception: Seeing is Not Believing," to get his thoughts about dealing with the uncertainty and fear we are all feeling.
Understanding where fear comes from
Purpura said that in order to get a fundamental understanding of fear, we must first understand the core principle that dictates all of our experiences: Humans can only act in accordance with their beliefs based on their current physiological state.
The "belief" part is where many experts contend that we don’t actually have free will, Purpura said, because we can only act in accordance with our beliefs. This is true because our beliefs create our perception of everything, he said.
Why are so many people acting irrationally when the vast majority of them know logically that they are not at risk of dying from the COVID-19 virus? The answer might shock you. Purpura said it’s because they don’t have a choice to act differently.
This is where your physiological state (your body’s ability to function) comes into play, because it dictates which parts of the brain you are able to access, he said. When you’re in a fear state — fight or flight — you only have access to the part of your brain that deals with survival. When you are in survival mode, you are in a reactionary state and you don’t have access to the area of the brain that dictates logic or reason.
Purpura explained that when you are in the physiology of fear, your mind views everything as a matter of life and death, which means it weighs every decision against your need to survive. This is why you feel so much resistance when you are in a fear state, and why you sometimes act irrationally and do things you don’t really want to do, he said. Everyone knows that there is no logical need to have hundreds of rolls of toilet paper stockpiled in a garage, yet some otherwise reasonable people still buy more than necessary.
Breaking free of fear
How do we break out of the physiology of fear and regain access to the rational parts of our brain? Purpura said we do it the same way our species has for hundreds of thousands of years.
But first, he said, it’s important to understand that we can’t rationalize our way out of fear. This is because our minds are no longer in control; our bodies are.
Your body has to send a signal to your brain that the danger has passed and it is time to move out of fear into a higher state of awareness, Purpura said. You may need some deep diaphragmatic breathing to calm yourself down and change your state back to logic.
Back in the days when our ancestors really were fighting for survival, when they finished running to escape or were done fighting, Purpura explained, the first thing they did was catch their breath. This would be impossible to do until they were safe. That is why deep breathing is the signal to your brain that you can relax. That is also why meditation can be effective.
Deep breathing in meditation lets you take control of your physiology, Purpura explained. Most people don’t meditate because they find it hard to clear their minds, he said, but most of the benefits of meditation come from the breathing.
What to do when you're overwhelmed by fear
First, recognize the shift in physiology due to the fear.Fear usually shows up in your body in the chest, midsection or stomach, Purpura said, but it can show up anywhere. If you catch it early enough, you can just breathe until the anxiety associated with the fear dissipates. Then you can process the fear rationally.
If you don’t catch it right away, you can try the process below, but there are a few things you need to know first, Purpura said. This will take practice, and you will likely fail a few times before you get it right. Your mind may resist this process until it realizes that there is less pain associated with doing the process than defaulting to a fear pattern you instinctively run to.
When you experience fear that overwhelms your system, you will default to actions or behaviors to escape the pain, Purpura said. These behaviors become patterns that now run automatically whenever your fear is triggered. These patterns can be almost anything, including: addiction, expressing anger, beating yourself up, or even buying more toilet paper than you need. Awareness is the key to changing your automatic response to fear, Purpura said.
As feelings of fear, pain and discomfort intensify, you will start moving toward the behavior pattern you think will keep you from pain. But just before you engage in that unhealthy behavior, there will always be a pause. This pause, Purpura said, is your opportunity to shift out of the fear state before you engage your old pattern. Once that pattern is activated, it is very difficult to interrupt because you are then on autopilot.
Here are some steps Purpura recommends for taking advantage of the pause:
You can do this.
Coach Kim Giles is a master life coach and James Purpura is the author of the new book and Sundance Award Movie‘Perception: Seeing is not believing’. Powerful-U offers tools and assistance to all those who are seeking growth.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.