Benefits of Fear: Do 1 Scary Thing Every Day for Mental Health and Growth
Fear is universal, meaning that we all have it, even if some of what scares us might not scare someone else.
Common human fears include: open spaces, closed spaces, heights, flying, insects, snakes, storms, needles, dogs — and, yes, fear of other people (“the most common type”).
Last week we talked about kowtowing to our own Ego, which I’ll bet is at least as common, if not more common, than being scared of anyone or anything else. What would we call that? Egophobia?
OMG, I just looked that up. Egophobe is an Urban Dictionary thing: “1. n. A person who has such a low opinion of him/her self that he/she is afraid to express ideas, opinions, or even to talk to others for fear of making a fool of him/herself.”
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What is Fear Anyway?
Here’s one definition: “Fear is the anticipation or belief that something is dangerous, threatening or likely to cause pain.”
In more technical terms: “…the stress neurotransmitter norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, facilitates fear processing in the brain by stimulating a certain population of inhibitory neurons in the amygdala to generate a repetitive bursting pattern of electrical discharges.”
The more technical term makes this emotion sound more completely outside of our control than it may be. In fact, conscious thought and previous experience (memory) play big parts in the extent to which we do or do not feel scared.
And, moreover, fear is not just a four-letter word. It’s actually a plus.
The Benefits of Fear
Here is an excerpt from an earlier post:
Have you ever paid to be afraid? Unless you’ve never been to an amusement park, actually you have. Malcolm Burt researched why people around the world ride roller coasters, to the tune of $12 billion a year in the US alone, in some part due, he believes, to a human need to connect more with our more primal selves.
Framing things in evolutionary terms appeals to me too. So, what is it about sensation seeking that may have helped us to survive and to thrive? One narrative would be that we are the children (ancestors) of the earliest humans who could deal best with high levels of risk, the children of people who could ward off predators and find food under the most extremely hostile conditions.
Those endowed with a natural tendency to take these risks, those who could best tolerate the anxiety associated with a heart pounding adrenaline rush, would have been the ones to find food, to survive, to have sex and make babies, who then had babies, and so on until here we all are.
Fear helped us to survive and to thrive, such that we are even here to discuss it today. That alone makes it a plus, even if we get a little carried away about it sometimes.
And here is a list of 10 benefits of fear:
- Keeps you safe.
- Helps you lose weight.
- Temporarily boosts immune system.
- Feeling fear — in the right dose — is fun and exciting.
- Gives you a natural high and a sense of empowerment.
- Helps you manage stress and relaxes you.
- Helps you stay in the present moment and to focus.
- Socializes you and bonds you to other people.
- Allows you to live life to the fullest.
- Gives you clarity on what’s really important in life.
Click this 10 benefits link to read more about each of the above. There are also many other articles online on the benefits of fear.
For now, let’s consider #5 on empowerment.
“Do one thing every day that scares you” is a saying often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. Turns out what she might have really said is, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”
And who among us, in these ridiculously trying times, can’t use as much strength, courage, and confidence as we can get our hands on for the journey.
Stress Physiologist, Dr. Rebecca Heiss, said something similar in a great talk she gave for a conference I attended recently. In fact, one of her slides showed a full list of things we can experiment with to scare ourselves.
One article mentioned “Travelling alone? Bungee jumping? Cliff diving?” Been there done all of those; well, zip lining, not bungee jumping, but I think that counts.
Last month, I finally got Rafael Leonardo a doggie backpack for him to sit in on my back while I rode my bike along the water in Downtown DC to The Wharf.
Believe me when I tell you I felt scared — and exhilarated, and empowered — just like they say.
In fact, from an earlier post on decision making styles, studies show we may too often opt for safety when bigger and bolder might be better:
People tend to think that when they feel they “can’t decide!” that they should play it safe rather than go boldly out into some space they may have never been before. But this study found that people are happier down the line when they went for big and bold rather than preserving their status quo.
This Yale study found that, when we play it safe, the learning and motivational centers of the brain shut down. The brain doesn’t want to waste any energy, so when everything is chill in the comfort zone the brain figures no need to get all jazzed up about anything. May be relaxing but not that much fun. Not much learning takes place. Not much new and exciting gets done.
Question: How much getting scared is too much getting scared? And how much is not enough?
Answer: The Goldilocks Principle. Not so much that it overwhelms and shuts us down, so we do nothing. Not so little that the brain is bored and shuts down for that. Not too much. Not too little. But just right.
So, maybe it’ll be one scary thing every week, not every day, for me because, honestly, I am having some trouble thinking of things to do that scare me.
Remember my avatar, little Madeline, from the children’s book… ‘She was not afraid of mice, she loved winter, snow, and ice, to the Tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said pooh pooh.’
And when you are told repeatedly that you have a 99% chance of dying unless they amputate your upper right quadrant, and then take 10 trips to the OR, never quite sure exactly how much of your former self you’ll come out of the OR with each time…compared to that, really, what would get me scared?
But surely there is something, and I will find it. What about you?
What one thing can you do this day, this week, this month…to scare yourself into the benefits of fear? Try something and if you care to, let us know what happened?
Photo by unsplash pablo-heimplatz