For many people, the beginning of the new year symbolizes “change”. It is the time when new resolutions and direction are often decided. It serves as a “jumping off” point for folks determining to make positive changes in their lives. For others, this time is just “more of the same”, and not in a good way. It represents more uncertainty, more stress, more of having to live in relationship that is damaging them, or more of working in a job that is oppressive. Whether this time for you is a time of opportunity or a time of challenge, fear has a way of creeping in and can be paralyzing and damaging if left unchecked.
In talking with folks lately, I’ve heard a consistent theme around now being a time of uncertainty. It can be economic uncertainty, occupational uncertainty, governmental uncertainty, or financial uncertainty, to name a few. Regardless, uncertainty can be a doorway to fear. When the door is opened, fear is on the other side, but it isn’t the only thing on the other side. The opposite of fear, that is, peace and rest, is there as well. I doubt any of us would say we choose fear over peace and rest, but the truth is, when we are in fear, we are absolutely choosing fear over peace and rest. Choosing fear means that we are deciding to stay in our heads rather than operating from our hearts. We are deciding that what lies on the other side (of uncertainty, decisions, relationships, etc.) requires us to be on alert. We then signal the body to move into the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). This results in a dump of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline into the blood system to stimulate the body and increase our alertness to the world around us. The heart will beat faster, blood sugar will rise, and spontaneous energy levels will increase as the body prepares to respond to what it is being told is a threat. Our bodies were designed with this functionality for a very specific reason – to protect us from imminent threats. However, when we default to moving into fear on a regular basis by analyzing situations and circumstances and coming up with worst-case scenarios, we are instigating the body to activate this process at a time when no threat is actually present. The threat is only present in our minds and, so is the fear we create around it.
It would be nice if the future scenario we worked out in our minds resulted in an analytical assessment without a negative physiological impact, but that is rarely the case. So, what’s the answer? In my experience, the answer comes in recognizing where the fear is coming from and deciding to draw from the opposite source, which is love. It starts with accepting the fact that fear is a choice, and you are under no obligation to respond in fear. As such, you are in control of it, instead of it is controlling you. That concept alone is liberating. The next step is deciding to prepare yourself for responding to fear before it comes up. For this, I personally spend time regularly reminding myself that the power to overcome fear is already in me. Therefore, I have everything I need to live in peace in rest, regardless of my circumstances. This step changes the default narrative I am used to living under so that when fear comes up, my body has a new response to draw from. Thirdly, when something happens (or doesn’t happen) and I feel fear starting to work its way in, I immediately stop myself, take a couple of deep breaths to slow my body down, then smile as I remind myself that I am in control of this reaction and I’m choosing to change the default action of moving into fear that my body is accustomed to.What would life be like absent of fear? Think about that for a moment and see what comes up for you. I would submit that living life in peace and rest is not out of the realm of possibility. However, if that is not where you or I have lived lately, it is going to require intentionality to change. The good news is, it is available whenever we are ready to embrace it.