Irregular heartbeats, shaking voice and ice-cold sweat on the hands. “You can’t fail this time: you have to pass the last exam!”, rises her internal voice while she’s defending her master’s thesis in front of the committee. “They all stare at me. Especially this guy in the front. For sure they think I’ll fail. I’m nervous. I don’t want to be nervous. What did I want to say?”
“You can have another try”, says a friendly professor. “I’m sorry, I just… I just can’t.”
Fear. Either your best friend or your greatest enemy. I won’t talk about your best friend today, the one who holds you back from doing very stupid things and is your personal lifeguard. I want to talk about your enemy. The fear that holds you back from achieving goals, finding fulfilment and becoming a stronger person.
The 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi said: “Move, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.”
Enemies can be everywhere: take jealousy. When you think about your girl- or boyfriend flirting with someone else, how does that feel? Are you afraid that you are not good enough and you’ll lose him or her? Love is the opposite of fear. We can’t be in the state of fear and love at the same time: they block each other. If we love we are connected to safety, healing and positive feelings. Love doesn’t know jealousy or greed, because love doesn’t mean owning a person. And if he leaves you? A feeling of emptiness will remain.
“Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.” – Rumi
Loneliness: an enemy who makes you stay in unhealthy relationships or fake friendships. I personally know more than a handful of people who stayed with someone out of fear of ending up lonely.
You nourish your enemy if you fight it, if you pay too much attention to it. It will grow, bigger and bigger. It’s like fighting against the appetite of chocolate. If you don’t eat it now, you might eat the whole bar after a few hours of fight.
We have to change our focus.
According to recent studies, anxiety alters what we are conscious of and with it, how we experience reality. This can subconsciously shape our world view and what we think about politics. University of Nebraska found that people who pay more attention to gruesome pictures tend to lean to the right politically. People who were drawn to negative or frightening images and spent more time looking at them were more likely to identify as a conservative.
When you read this article, your attention is focused on only a few words. Outside this spotlight you can’t read the text, everything else appears blurry. Our visual attention automatically responds to a wide variety of forms of threat. Dangerous animals or angry faces have the power to grasp our attention’s spotlight. We subconsciously focus on frightening things because it helps us to survive.
Understanding how your attention works makes it easier to handle anxiety or to make sure that what you think about political issues isn’t directed by fear.
If you’re afraid of public speaking for example, try to focus on the nice and friendly faces in the crowd instead of the angry ones. If you fear loneliness, focus on the positive things which can bring a time for just yourself. Try to reconnect with love, and it will blow out the fear.
You won’t get stronger if you run away. You can’t truly love someone when you’re afraid of loneliness. You won’t find serenity if fear is your enemy. Make the enemy your best friend. I don’t want to run away any longer; do you?