Fear is one of the most powerful (and manipulative) tools to cause a reaction in a person or group of people. Fear-based motivations are largely employed as control mechanisms, especially in politics, religion, business and media.
Sometimes this can be so subtle, such as through forms of advertising, that we don’t notice it. Like when a new product hits the market and uses the “you need our gadget or service so this doesn’t happen to you” pitch. And it often works, because enough of us go Oh man, I don’t want that to happen. I better order that.
On a personal level, we usually don’t realize how much we do or don’t do because of our own internal fearful thinking. For many people, the fear is built up in their minds and they don’t act on something they should, or they restrain themselves for fear of judgment from others. This is something I have found myself struggling with many times.
On other more serious and even insidious scales, fear is used to drive entire populations into doing things that they otherwise wouldn’t consider doing. We have seen this escalate conflicts, both overseas and domestically, time and again. We are in the middle of major fear-based campaigns that are tearing our country, and world, apart.
From a pandemic to inequality to the upcoming election, we are bombarded with messages and opinions and even plenty of false or misrepresented information. When faced with some of these things, I like to ask myself what is the feeling that is produced by it, is the purpose of the message uplifting and helpful, or is fearful and divisive? If it is causing fear and destruction then it is likely the result of someone’s agenda for power, control or profit. There are many examples in our history of how good people were driven to do terrible things because they were made to be afraid of other people or potential circumstances. Millions of lives have been lost because of this through wars and persecution. But it doesn’t take that extreme to have a seriously negative impact on us, individually or collectively.
The Impact of Fear on our Wellbeing
The University of Minnesota has an excellent resource for information on our wellbeing, called the Center for Spirituality & Healing. One article discusses some of the impacts of living in chronic fear, including:
Living under constant threat has serious health consequences.
Physical health. Fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death.
Memory. Fear can impair formation of long-term memories and cause damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus. This can make it even more difficult to regulate fear and can leave a person anxious most of the time. To someone in chronic fear, the world looks scary and their memories confirm that.
Brain processing and reactivity. Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately.
Mental health. Other consequences of long-term fear include fatigue, clinical depression, and PSTD.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be cautious, or that we can never be afraid. That would be ridiculous. There is of course the self-preservation benefit to fear that does help protect us in harrowing times. However, it is the perception of situations and the amount of potential danger that we can start to pay more attention to so that we can drop much of the fear-based thinking.
For example, statistics and probabilities. We can objectively review and compare information and raw data to come up with our own rational conclusions about things. This includes analyzing data from multiple outlets, because facts can be cherry-picked by biased sources. After doing so we may be able to proceed with slight caution or potentially drop the fear altogether.
Another way is to pay more attention to positive aspects of things, as we energetically get more of what we are looking for. If you are constantly looking for reasons why you should be afraid of something or someone, then you can likely find it. Thankfully, the opposite is also true – if you are looking for positive outcomes or circumstances, you will more easily find those as well. The more positivity, hope, community and love we seek out and put out into the universe, the more we will experience in return.
Sometimes we need help with this, and that is perfectly okay. It may be through the help of a loved one, or someone like a mentor, coach or therapist.
Leading with Love Leads to Growth
The best solutions to problems or conflicts are ones that are rooted in love and with the intention of healing and positive growth. It is possible to communicate about difficult situations without doing so fearfully, but instead with messages of hope and help.
When it involves a conflict with another person, perhaps asking ourselves if our response to them is one that we would want for ourselves or our own loved ones.