Most of us live life perpetually in fear of something whether that is being alone, losing a job, finding happiness or just good ol' fashioned death. Fear has been a constant throughout human history. In fact, it's one thing we share with every living creature on Earth.
Why then, do people, living in arguably the greatest time in human history, grow to become afraid of everything? Because they don't know what type of fear they are dealing with. What are the types of fear, you ask? Well, pretty simple - there's good, bad and ugly.
Good fear starts the same way as any other kind of fear - with a stimulus. You almost get hit by a car, a snake slithers across the path in front of you, you hear a sound outside your window at night.
Your hypothalamus immediately fires off the fight-or-flight response. Adrenaline, Norepinephrine and Cortisol flood your system. Your heart races. You could run the 100-meter dash in ten seconds. You could hear a pin drop.
A second, slower process is activated simultaneously that sends a signal through the 'smarter' parts of your brain. This helps you assimilate information and determine whether this is a real threat or not.
However, if this is a really something to be feared, you're experiencing the good kind of fear. This is how your body is supposed to work. It's what kept your ancestors alive long enough to reproduce. If you have experienced good fear, congratulations. Your brain is working just fine.
Did that car see you? Is that really a snake? Was it just the wind? If you are still alive to read this article, chances are you're just fine and you abort the fight-or-flight rationale. No problem.
Repeated or prolonged exposure to good fear is what makes it bad fear. If you think your life is in danger often and it really is, you develop a predisposition to believing that the world is a scary, dangerous place. It's a survival mechanism that works. You begin to short circuit the rational side of the fight-or-flight response and 'take the low road' more often than you should.
Bad fear is a learned behavior. It's the mechanism of developing trauma. It fills the logical brain with plenty of evidence to employ the fight-or-flight response. Bad fear can be un-learned, too. It's as simple as acknowledging when you are afraid and keeping track of all the times you DON'T DIE. Left untreated, bad fear gets pretty ugly.
Ugly fear begins to rear its head when you've had to much bad fear. We start rerouting situations that shouldn't produce any fear and applying the same lens. We claim our financial situation is life-or-death, or perhaps our social status. Our predisposition to react using your reptilian brain has infected our relationships, our work, our values, even our hopes for the future.
We become scared of everything. Talking to a bank teller can elicit the same fear response as jumping out of an airplane. Our brains still process fear of Facebook rejection the same we would process a Bengal Tiger attack 100,000 years ago. We live in the safest time in human history and we're utterly terrified by it.
My Relationship with Fear
I have known fear for as long as I can remember. Fear kept me alert and alive in combat. Over time, it became the lens through which I saw the world. Eventually, it infected every aspect of my life and blinded me from my true path.
Read our next articles, Resistence: The Enemy You Need and Finding Your Work, and learn how I reeducated myself on fear and found what drives me.
-Matt Gangloff, Founder, Enlyten Lab