“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. Who is the most fearful of them all?”
If you were to stand in front of a mirror and pose this question to the mirror, what do you
think would be its response?
I believe the mirror would look you straight in the eye and reply almost spontaneously,
Don’t be, because the mirror is simply reflecting you.
From the time we are born to our last breath, all of us have embedded fears of varying types
However, when fear uproots us from our normal state of bliss, we must challenge and
overcome it. So, what should we try doing? Read an inspiring story of a brave heart? Try out
something adventurous and prove to ourselves that we are daring? Perhaps, and perhaps not.
Because intense fear can feel like a thousand demons dancing on the head, near impossible to
dislodge. It requires your time, patience, and repeated effort. It calls for a paradigm shift in
mindset – tiny incremental steps towards eradicating the fear (remember, Rome was not built
in a day) and an innate belief that “I can and will do it.”
And really, why shouldn’t you? We both know that life is meant to be enjoyed in the
sunshine and not in the black of the night.
So, sit beneath the serene warmth of the early morning sun and open up your heart to the
wonders of this world. To live under a cloud of paralyzing fear is a waste.
4 stages of fear
As newborns, loud noises scare us, and as old babies, we may still be held hostage by
phobias like acrophobia, claustrophobia, etc. In our middle years, we experience fears over
social acceptance, commitments, and whatnot.
So, how can we understand this emotion? Fear actually manifests itself in four stages so
before making any attempt to defeat it, let us befriend it by understanding what it is all about.
The four stages of fear:
Heard of these words in the song Imagine? It runs like this “Imagine all the people living life
in peace…?” It nudges your imagination into an optimistic space. It is the same with fear which allows our imagination to wander, although this time it travels into a dark zone.
We start imagining more than can be. Creating different scenarios and solutions for the fearful
the situation in order to protect ourselves, and the more we are prepared, the more protected we
think we are.
We feel we have built an impenetrable wall of defense, surrounded by an army of thoughts to
guard us against any foreseeable disaster.
Feeling the Fear:
We have filled our mindscape with so many different fearful scenarios and solutions, that in
this second stage, fear travels from the mind to the body. We start to hyperventilate, our heart
beats faster, our voice increases its pitch and our body fills up with nerves. If you have ever
experienced stage fright you will know what I am talking about.
When we are face-to-face, in open confrontation, with our oppressor, or demon, or whatever
derogatory name you wish to call it, we no longer imagine scenarios and solutions. The fear
that possessed our thinking, drowning reason and blowing it up like a tornado, spinning
elements of dirt and mud into our face – blocks us from thinking. Now, we can only feel. And
the feeling is fear.
Paralysis and Acceleration:
When we only focus on what we feel, paying no heed to our thoughts, guess what happens?
We block our minds, entering into the third stage of fear, which is paralysis and acceleration.
At this stage, we feel hopeless and gripped with paralysis, like a tree unable to move.
It is best to wait for these moments to pass, telling ourselves that the fearful situation mustn’t
be viewed as a threat.
Some people who experience intense fear may not experience paralysis, but – acceleration,
where they end up doing silly things.
As a child, I remember that if I ever saw a flying cockroach on the wall, I would cover my
whole body under a bedsheet and wait for the cockroach to disappear. But if we think it
through, can a bedsheet really protect us from a flying cockroach?
In the paralysis and acceleration stage, we don’t know what we are doing – fear has gripped
to an extent of destroying our ability to think correctly.
Creation of Memories:
The problem with us humans is that we live a large part of our lives rooted in the past. So,
like a football fan getting a ringside view of the stadium, we see our fears of the past up close
looming larger than life before us – especially those emotional and stressful ones.
Now that we have broken down the complexity of this fear, it is important to understand that
fear can be overcome. Today, tomorrow, or one day in the future.
How to overcome fear
Fear is like a slow-burning flame that refuses to die out until it burns out the candle. It is best
to take care of fear lest it overwhelms you.
Acknowledge the fear
Imagine, if you are experiencing back pain for months on end and all reports done are proof
that no back condition exists. In reality, the back pain is an outcome of your innate fear of
being bedridden which came about on account of a back injury you had years ago. Despite
being completely cured of the condition you are unnecessarily living in this state of expectant
disaster. And, the sad part is that you do not realize this! Why? Because you refuse to believe
you are living in the shadow of this fear.
The primary step to fighting fear is to acknowledge that what we are feeling is fear and take
responsibility for it. Only once we acknowledge this, can we move towards conquering it. We
can speak aloud about fear, telling ourselves that is temporary and will pass. We can even
maintain a private diary and write down our feelings about the fearful situation so the next
time it approaches, we feel more centered.
So, we have acknowledged our fear but cannot seem to transform our behavior. We feel
What we need to do is challenge the fear by changing our thoughts.
We must stop engaging in self-defeating, negative thoughts and instead work through fear by
indulging in a happy, optimistic one.
We can even diary our negative thoughts of fear and then convert those into practical,
As Norman Vincent Peale was quoted as saying, “Change your thoughts and you change
Get face-to-face with fear
Are you scared of lifts? Go up, anyway. Do planes frighten you? Fly, anyway. Do crowds
sicken you? Wade through them, anyway
Once you expose yourself to the fear, you have taken the first step towards conquering it
As a child, I remember how scared I was of taking rides on the giant wheel. Until I decided to
just do it. And, what an experience it turned out to be. The joy of the ride as my heart skipped
beats, the ecstasy of a new experience, the shock of combating my fear, all collided into a
wheel of frenzy. I could taste the bitter-sweet promise of life, and it felt good! You may not
be as lucky as me, to have your fear vanish with one encounter. But, will notice that with
successive encounters, the fear minimizes. A trick is to let yourself imagine the worst thing
that can happen and realize that this rarely really does.
Stanford neuroscientist Philippe Goldin once told Lifehacker, “Exposure is hands down the
most successful way to deal with phobias, anxiety disorders, and everyday fears of any sort.”
Remember, that being afraid is normal. It’s even good to feel afraid, but we should not allow
fear to distort our thinking and prevent us from enjoying the succulent fruits of life.
Don’t make fear your enemy. Embrace it, love it, and watch it miraculously transform into an
an ambiguous thing in your past.
Then, once again, ask your mirror: “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the most fearful of us
all?” The mirror will never lie