The Fear of "What If"


Many of us are paralysed by fear in our daily lives. The fear of illness - whether we are blessed with great health or not; the fear of financial hardship - even if we have savings or have a regular income; the fear of loneliness, failure, change, losing control, getting fat, getting wrinkly, getting old... and of course the fear of death.


Although there is a time and a place to react from a place of fear e.g. when faced with a man-eating tiger - or more likely for most of us, being imminently hit by a bus - there is no need to allow ourselves to be "hijacked" by fear. Yet our amygdala - the primitive part of the brain that deals with emotions such as fear - does just that: it automatically activates the fight or flight (and sometimes freeze) response. Do we need to fight or flee the minute we get an email we don't like or someone coughing a little too close to us? We seem to feel in dangered by pretty mundane stuff at times. One of the biggest threats in our lives has become "what if..."

I have many family members, friends and acquaintances who live their lives in a perpetual state of anxiety about the uncertainty of life. "What if I don't get this job/ promotion? What if I miss the train/ bus/ plane? What if my husband/ wife/ partner leaves me? What if I get your cold?..."


We don't know for certain what life will bring us the next minute, day, month or decade. Because life is like a roller coaster; it is filled with highs and lows and exciting bits and boring bits and we have no idea what's around the corner. And that is the whole point of a full and rich life. The trick is to surrender to the flow of life. That does not mean we do not plan and even hope. But there is a sense of trust that whatever life may bring if we go with the flow as opposed to battle against it, we will be all right. What I mean by all right is that we will be able to deal with whatever happens and not succumb to our primitive brain. We can - as for example pilots do - train our brains to become more resilient to perceived danger. And even when there is a real danger, we could get ourselves to safety without panic.


What if... we looked at fear as if it were the biggest roller coaster ride? With a sense of curiosity, exhilaration and openness. What if we allowed ourselves to be fuelled by our fear?

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