Fear is a common human experience and it has a purpose. Fear drives the limbic responses of fight, flight, and freeze and is very much a survival instinct. Without fear, many of us may be dead at this point because at some time in your life fear caused you to escape harm.
However, fear is often the main hindrance to becoming a better version of yourself.
At the heart of all our worries, self-doubt, and obstacles lies fear. It is this fear that hinders our progress and prevents us from reaching out for the assistance we so desperately need to overcome our hardships and find relief from our suffering.
Usually fear manifests itself in several ways.
- Fear of what someone might think if they find out you struggle.
- Fear of what would happen if when you get help you fail.
- Fear of never ultimately achieving your goal.
- Fear of having to admit that you’re a little weaker than you thought.
All of these are legitimate fears and things we all struggle with on a day-to-day basis. Whether it be porn use or simply performing at our best when it comes to our job.
Don’t get me wrong.
Fear is a valid emotion, yet it can also be immensely detrimental and an obstacle to conquering success in any venture or journey one embarks on.
I know for me fear has manifested itself over the course of my life many times keeping me trapped, feeling alone, and ultimately stuck. Yet when I reflect on all those instances and question myself about the things I was so afraid of, I come to the realization that my fears were not really well-founded.
In other words, instead of being afraid of a very present danger, usually what I was afraid of was the “what ifs” and the “what could happens.”
Maybe you can relate?
So this month we are going to dive into the topics of fear and anxiety and how these emotional experiences can hinder our recovery efforts and often lie at the roots of our unwanted sexual behaviors and troubles. Again, fear is normal. It has a purpose… mainly survival. But, when left unchecked and unexamined, it can have debilitating consequences on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Here are 3 of them:
1. Impact on the Brain
One of the most intriguing aspects of fear lies in its profound impact on the brain. The amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure deep within the brain’s temporal lobe, plays a central role in processing fear-related stimuli. When we encounter a fearful situation, the amygdala rapidly assesses the threat and triggers a cascade of physiological responses.
However, chronic exposure to fear or ongoing anxiety can lead to an overactive amygdala, resulting in heightened stress levels. In fact, prolonged activation of the amygdala can lead to neural plasticity, altering the brain’s structure and function (LeDoux, 2000). Consequently, over time, this may result in heightened anxiety, reduced cognitive abilities, and even conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
2. Impaired Physical Health
The damaging consequences of fear extend beyond the confines of the mind and impact our physical health. When we experience fear, our bodies enter a state of heightened alertness, commonly known as the fight-or-flight response. Although this response may be crucial in acute situations, chronic fear can create an ongoing state of stress, which can have harmful consequences on multiple bodily systems.
According to a study conducted by Cohen et al. (2016), long-term fear, stress, and anxiety can lead to various health problems such as cardiovascular issues, weakened immune system, gastrointestinal disorders, and disrupted sleep patterns.
3. Poor Behavior and Decision-Making
Fear has a profound influence on our behavior and decision-making processes. When faced with a fearful situation, our instincts often drive us to prioritize safety over exploration, critical thought, and/or risk-taking. And while this instinctual response can be adaptive, it can also hinder personal growth and development when fear becomes chronic.
Fear biases decision-making by promoting avoidance behavior (Apergis-Schoute et al., 2017). Individuals who are chronically fearful may avoid new experiences, shy away from transparency, and miss out on opportunities for growth and learning. Over time, this avoidance pattern can lead to a narrowed life experience, missed opportunities, and isolation.
Let me challenge you as I have challenged myself many times.
If you are not getting help for the destructive patterns and behaviors in your life because you are afraid, then take the time to address those fears, stand up to them and realize that at the end of the day, most of them have no real merit or weight.
Ultimately, the only thing getting in the way of you becoming a better version of you… is you. That sounds like a tongue twister, but it’s true. You and your fear are your biggest blockade to success and freedom.
Don’t let fear get the better of you.
Accept it, embrace it, and then reject it because ultimately fear is not our friend, but our mortal enemy.
LeDoux, J. E. (2000). Emotion circuits in the brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 23(1), 155-184.
Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Miller, G. E. (2007). Psychological stress and disease. JAMA, 298(14), 1685-1687.
Apergis-Schoute, A. M., & Robbins, T. W. (2017). Neuroscience of fear extinction: Implications for assessment and treatment of PTSD. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(4), 214-226.