“Outsmarting Our Primitive Responses to Fear“ by Kate Murphy has been featured on The New York Times app since Oct. 26. 2017 for good reason. Its main point is:
If you can sense and appreciate your fear — be it of flying, illness or social rejection — as merely your amygdala’s request for more information rather than a signal of impending doom, then you are on your way to calming down and engaging more conscious, logic-dominated parts of your brain. At that point, you can assess the rationality of your fear and take steps to deal with it….
Dr. Dalrymple is a proponent of acceptance and commitment therapy for managing fear, which has recently been gaining clinical validation. It encourages people not only to accept that they are feeling fearful and examine the causes but also to think about their values and how committing to overcoming their fears would be consistent with who they want to be. The approach forces higher-order thinking, which theoretically disables or diminishes the amygdala response.
I added that emphasis to “think about their values and how committing to overcoming their fears would be consistent with who they want to be” because that element seems particularly important. Do you really want to be one who’s trapped by fear?
But the article concludes with what may be an even more important discovery:
Psychologists and neuroscientists are also finding that the amygdala is less apt to freak out if you are reminded that you are loved or could be loved…. Just as fear can be contagious, so can courage, caring and calm.
That point suggests to me that tapping deep instinctual compassion can help deal with fear. We need not only rely on “higher-order thinking.”