Understanding and Overcoming Fear

by Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel

Shadows, phobias, failures, darkness and death lurk in the recesses of both the conscious and subconscious mind. Fear is ambiguous, subjective and imaginative, therefore different for each one of us. Fear results in paralysis, blocking self-expression and growth. What are we really scared of? One answer that comes to mind: we are not good enough. On another level, our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure!

Sometimes, we suppress who we are because other people might feel insecure around us. We want to accommodate and please others, so we behave accordingly hoping they will validate and like us. In some cases, we do not believe that we are powerful enough to heal ourselves when we become ill. However, the human body is beautifully engineered to heal. Even when we need medical intervention, we partner our own healing. Ultimately, we fear dying. What is it about dying that we fear? What we really fear is not having lived a true life.

If we have suppressed, accommodated and pleased everyone but ourselves, then we have not lived our authentic life. We need to emerge from the box, live more on the edge and express ourselves, to become more assertive, but not aggressive. We can learn from the animals to: track, run, repel and attract. First, we need to trust our intuition by using the five senses to go after what we want. Next, we should pursue our goals to implement them because an inspiration will go only so far. Thirdly, we must repel those who are negative, envious and small-minded. Finally, we need to attract the group who can help us sustain our vision. There is strength in numbers and when others help, take us by the hand so to speak, we can fulfill our greater purpose in life.

What we fear in another person or in a goal, ironically, mirrors what we are afraid to learn about ourselves. Carl Jung said, "The hardest person to confront is the self." That is the reason why many of us distract ourselves with many activities, jobs and duties rather than face the dark shadows within ourself.

It all comes full circle to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Their transformation from innocence to worldly experience got them punished and released fear into the world. All that changed by eating the forbidden fruit was their perception. This is our spiritual legacy: to seek knowledge and fear punishment. Each new experience in life moves us to the next place.

As in life, fear impedes progress in the gym. Many of us fear going to the gym or taking a new exercise class. If an overweight person doesn't try, he can't fail. Women, in particular, fear that everyone else will look better. Some women fear that strength training will cause them to bulk up, to look like Hercules instead of Aphrodite. Other fears include clumsiness, or looking silly. This explains why men tend to fear the aerobics room. The best way to overcome these fears is to work out or attend class with a friend, like we did when we first started school: someone took us by the hand and that made us feel secure and empowered.

Exercising with a partner is motivating. Similarly, if we are afraid to attend a party, doctor's office, or a foreign country, we can invite a friend. Even when we feel alone without a friend to call, there are guardian angels to take us by the hand leading us to a happy realization. These angels may assume the form of a clerk, hairdresser, personal trainer or even a child.

We do not want to deny our fears but befriend them. We need to learn to handle fear by understanding that it is a normal response, a survival instinct preparing us for fight or flight. We are wired for stress. When we take a test or perform athletically, some degree of tension stimulates a successful performance.

Like an athlete, we should practice deep breathing which carries oxygen to the muscles and the brain helping us perform better physically and think more clearly-- in greater focus. In addition, positively visualizing the outcome step by step is instrumental to success. By projecting the self into the activity in time and space and using the five senses to imagine the victory, we overcome our fear. This helps us to develop concentration to work alongside fear, instead of fear distracting us from concentrating.

Keep these points in mind to reach your goals: 1. Speak up and reveal your honest opinion. 2. Say no when you feel the need. This means you have self-esteem and can establish your boundaries. 3. Leave a party when you no longer want to be there. 4. Ask someone who appears unattainable to go out on a date. 5. Exercise your fear away. While you walk or jog on a treadmill think or say: I can do it. I can do it. 6. Take a new class at the gym.

Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, a university mind/body lecturer and personal trainer. She has been featured in magazines, radio and TV.