Punchinello's Chronicles

Dealing with Fear

What is fear, exactly? There isn’t one of us who hasn’t experienced fear, but the answer as to what it is doesnt’ seem to be so certain. And, indeed that’s the answer: Fear is the opposite of certainty.

There are all sorts of fear, some of which are pretty easy to understand. There’s fear of physical pain, which isn’t all that hard to understand. Understanding isn’t the same as dealing with it, but we don’t have so many questions about what to do when we’re staring at pain.

But these days, the kind of fear many people are facing isn’t so easy to understand. It isn’t a fear of dying, which actually isn’t so terrible in the minds of many folks. Nor is it the fear of physical pain. Instead, the main type of fear people are facing is psychological fear. It’s the panic of realizing they’re out of money, they’ve lost their only means of income, the house is about to go into foreclosure, and so on.

Psychological fear can be prolonged for extended periods of time. It causes massive stress to the system, leading to breakdowns in health, well-being, relationships, marriages, and even rational thinking.

So what is this fear? Where does it come from? Can understanding the meaning of fear help in dealing with it?

Fear is the lack of certainty. Fear isn’t a “thing,” it’s a “non-thing.” In other words, when you have pain you actually have chemical stimuli pounding away at your nervous system. The reactions slam into the brain and the result is we feel pain. Actual pain is one thing. The anticipation of pain is different. That’s psychological fear. It’s totally real, but not as simple to combat as physical pain.

Psychological fear is intangible. There isn’t a direct, physical source of the fear that can be eliminated. If you have a nail stuck in your hand, it hurts. Remove the nail and it still hurts, but gradually you start to heal. The point is that you can at least see the nail. You know the cause. You can understand that ending the source of the pain will bring on the healing.

But going to the next level is the fear and physical pain of an internal injury or serious disease. There, you can’t see the cause, yet you know something is terribly wrong. And because you can’t see the cause and you can’t quickly figure out how to get rid of the cause, you take on both the physical pain and the psychological fear.

Is that fear something specific? Of course it’s a series of chemical reactions, but the question is can you point to either the psychological fear or the anticipation and say, “that’s the thing!” No, because it isn’t a “thing.” It’s the absence of a thing. It’s a nothing…an emptiness, something missing.

When you’re happy and joyful, you’re not afraid. When you’re under the protection of a great power you’re not afraid. Why? Because you have certainty. You know “for sure” that whatever happens, you’ll be okay. You won’t have pain, you won’t be killed, you won’t be attacked, and you’ll have security.

It’s when you take away that protection that you have fear. It’s the “missing” of something that introduces fear.

All of us wish we had security. We wish we had certainty. We wish we could know for sure the outcome of a jeopardy. Our level of risk-taking is actually partly genetic. Some people are more chemically able to handle the hormones of fear than others. Some people can risk more than others, based on their basic genetic foundation. But genes aren’t the only operating factor.

Our mind and will can override the genetic predispositions. We may be terrified, as fearful as it’s possible to be, but our mind can override that fear and proceed with an action anyway. IF we know the action is right, and IF we believe in that action. We may not know the outcome, and that’s the risk. But if we’re certain of the action, what do we have? Certainty.

The key to handling fear is to fill the void!

Fear is an emptiness. It’s the absence of certainty. It’s the absence of sureness. It’s the absence of confidence. Even when we have a great idea, we can play the “what if” game, and introduce all sorts of emptiness. But notice that the “what if” game always takes something away, never really puts in creative additions.

“Oh my God! I just lost my job! What if I can’t find another one?” Consider all the things that are missing, that don’t exist in that statement. The job was there, now it’s gone. The certainty of a paycheck was there, now it’s gone. The belief in having a replacement job was there, now it’s gone.

What can I do in the next 20 minutes?

The only way to deal with fear is to inject some kind of certainty into the mind. ANY kind of certainty! We’ve heard about achievable goals. We’ve heard about how shopping or eating helps reduce fear. Why? Because of the certain outcome.

When someone is afraid and they go shopping it’s because they’re certain of their actions. They know how to shop. They know how to buy. They know how to get to and from the store. They find a goal, they achieve it, and they accomplish something! They’re certain of that accomplishment. It doesn’t matter if they need, want or can use whatever it is they buy.

So cut to the chase. Stop with the once-removed goals, and get to the heart of the matter. What can you personally do in the next 20 minutes that will either introduce certainty, or create something in your life?

That’s how to deal with fear.

No matter what happens, setting aside being shot or injured, all you can manage (not control) is about the next 20 minutes. You can set up a possible certainty, then demonstrate whether or not it actually is certain in the next 20 minutes.

The greatest fear we have is uncertainty. Taken to its farthest reaches, uncertainty eventually becomes insanity. When you no longer can trust your mind, no longer be certain of your thoughts and perceptions, then you have total chaos. That chaos is insanity. Carry fear to its greatest extreme, and you’ll end up insane.

To overcome fear is one thing. To put a stop to it temporarily is another. The problem isn’t to overcome the fear; you’d be trying to overcome emptiness. Instead, the solution is to replace the emptiness with something real, something solid, something tangible, something you can act upon.

Keep in mind that the chemical source of fear is adrenaline. When you open up the envelope, see the pink slip, and read that you’ve been “downsized,” you’ll get a burst of adrenaline. Nothing you can do will prevent the blast of sheer terror, massive fear, and the flush of blood as it withdraws from everything except your heart. But that isn’t the fear itself! It’s the chemicals.

What can you do in the next 20 minutes? Not the next day, hour, month, or for the rest of your life. The next 20 minutes ONLY! What action, thought, statement, or other function can you do in 20 minutes that will have any impact on what you’ve just experienced?

In many cases, the answer is…nothing. But the key is to be certain of that “nothing.” If you’re sure that you can do nothing in the next 20 minutes, then you can stop, take a breath, calm down, and allow time to pass. Allow time in order to think, imagine, contemplate, plan, and come up with an idea.

In many other cases, there is something you can do in the next 20 minutes. By focusing in on only that small timeframe, you can bring to bear your entire mind, all your experience, and everything going on around you. Knowing what to do in the next 20 minutes means you have some kind of certainty, which alleviates the fear.

Finally, there are those cases where the course of action is to do something totally unrelated to whatever has caused the plunge into fear. One example might be to lay down, close your eyes, and pretend to take a nap. Free up some mind power to let yourself pass through the adrenaline rush.

Another example might be to do an errand you’ve been meaning to do, or clean something you intended to clean. Focus your attention on the certainty that you KNOW how to accomplish this task! You’re certain of it, you’re sure of yourself, and you definitely will accomplish that thing. Forget about how it relates to or associates with the massive fear you’re experiencing. Build on the certainty.

The reason so many people allow their homes to fall into foreclosure is because they’re not certain of what to do. They have their pride they want to keep (they’re certain of that), and they’re certain of how they’ll look in the eyes of others. They’re sure that their survival is less important than how they feel about their self-esteem. They’re NOT certain of how to prevent the ongoing loss of money.

Be certain that all you need to survive is food, water, air, clothing, and shelter. If you have a family, you also need the physical safety of your loved ones and their access to food, water, air, clothing and shelter. That’s the bottom line. ALL else is secondary!

If you’re going broke, then cut your losses financially. Stop paying debt you can’t possibly clear. Cut your lifestyle in half or by 70%. Conserve your money as much as possible, and focus on survival! When you’re certain of your survival, you can always plan, you can always rebuild. But if you’re dead, you can’t do anything.

What can you do in the next 20 minutes that will promote your survival or create SOMEthing…anything? If the answer is nothing, then do nothing! A half hour from now, ask yourself what you can do in the next 20 minutes. If it’s still nothing, then do nothing.

But there’s always something you can do! If you just got laid off, one thing you can do is a total financial audit so you can be certain of exactly what’s your net worth at that instant. If you can’t pay a mortgage payment for the first time, then STOP! Don’t pretend it’ll all get better somehow! What can you do immediately to get some kind of certainty?

The first time you fail to meet a financial obligation, you can be certain it won’t be the last time. What you can do in the next 20 minutes is to examine the concept of “cutting your losses.” You can think about what if you were to immediately stop all payments excepting raw survival. You can examine bankruptcy, restructuring, moving to a less expensive home, starting a different job…whatever.

It’s the lack of certainty that causes fear. And many times, lack of certainty is the result of simple ignorance. If nothing else, in the next 20 minutes you can begin some kind of education. ANY kind of education! With information, facts, knowledge, advice, guidance, and support you can have some initial certainty. It may not “seem to” apply to your immediate problem, but that’s not important. The certainty is what’s important.


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