Fear is an essential information source for human survival. But this emotion becomes destructive when it freezes our ability to act, or there is no real threat in place, yet the fret persists. Meditation helps to manage the fear that binds you.
Meditation proved to help people endure terrifying life circumstances. A renowned psychologist Viktor Frankl used meditation practice during his time in a nazi concentration camp to help the fellow prisoners maintain humanity and clarity of mind.
And remember how movie characters alleviate hyperventilation caused by fear? They breathe into a paper bag, which is a meditation-like practice that shifts attention from the emotion to the breath.
To understand how exactly meditation helps you deal with fears, let’s find out how this emotion is created in the body.
On the Origins of Fear
All our fears start in the amygdala, a small almond-shaped mass of grey matter and one of the oldest emotional centers of the brain. It reacts to anything perceived as a threat long before our frontal lobe responsible for cognition can figure out if there is, in fact, anything to fear.
Unfortunately, for the amygdala, there is no difference between you seeing a snake and thinking about one. If you had a negative experience with a snake or heard a terrifying story involving one, some fear response is guaranteed.
Fears are rooted in past negative experiences. However, it goes beyond our lifetime since some “fearful knowledge” we got from the ancestors with their genes. And who wants the past struggles to define their future?
How Meditation Can Help
The only way to escape the chilling grip of fear is to retrain your mind. Meditation helps to comprehend your thoughts and emotions in the now, which means engaging the frontal lobe of your brain in processing fear.
A study conducted by Harvard researchers found that meditation allows overcoming fear through “extinction learning.” By focusing on the present moment during mindfulness practice, you gradually decrease the fear response to stimuli. Meanwhile, the memories that hold your fear get pushed away, and new ones are created by your conscious reactions to the cause of fret.
Overcoming Fear of Darkness with Your Breath
Let’s take the fear of darkness and the most basic meditation practice – passive concentration on the breath, as an example. The process is straightforward:
1. As you enter a dark room, and the fear begins to take over shift your focus to the breath.
2. You can assist the concentration by repeating “inhale-exhale” silently.
3. You can also focus on the triangle formed by your nose and lips: feeling the light coolness on the nostrils as you inhale and slight warmth on the lips as you exhale.
Every time you practice when faced with the fear, the old negative association with darkness dissolves a little, and a new productive response to it is wired into your brain.
Remember that you concentrate passively when focused and relaxed simultaneously. That means leaving out questions like “Do I focus on my breath the right way?” because such self-judgment induces even more anxiety, and the meditation becomes counter-productive.
Conscious breath seems to be an easy technique, but it takes time to master. So it is worth establishing a short daily “just breathe” practice to easily recreate it when working your fears.
Affirmation Meditation for Fears That Bind You
Affirmation-based practice can be considered a mantra meditation because it focuses on repeating a single phrase with a specific psychological meaning. This type of meditation targets the cause of fear rather than the emotion as an undesired symptom.
You can choose a guided affirmation meditation, to begin with, or create your own mantra:
1. Define a fear-inducing belief to change.
2. Reformulate it into a positive one, avoid the “no” particle.
3. Daily, take time to repeat the affirmation for at least 5 minutes.
4. Start by repeating it out loud
5. Then when it feels right, switch to mumbling or whispering.
6. Lastly, shift to repeating the affirmation in your mind.
If you are meditating on a timer after it goes off, allow the sensations to sink in and open your eyes.
For instance, you fear public speaking after a single unfortunate oratory experience and get thoughts like “I am terrible at public speaking. The audience hates my speech”. You can turn this statement into a positive one “I am a great public speaker. The audience loves my speech”.
What fears are you working on overcoming? Would you try meditation to do it? Share your thoughts in the comments.