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Fear

There's a lot to be afraid of. But time and again we read in the Bible 'do not fear'. So how can we live free from fear?

Read time: 7 minutes, 36 seconds

Peanut butter being caught on the roof of your mouth.

Spiders.

Clowns.

Things that go bump in the night.

Failure.

Being found out.

Or of losing someone too soon – or never having them in the first place.

There are so many things that can cause us to be afraid. Yet the Bible tells us over 300 times not to be afraid. Even in the most terrifying of situations – from war zones to prisons, from dinner tables to being face to face with God – the message spoken time and time again is “do not fear.”

The twenty-first century can be a terrifying place to be. We are surrounded by messages designed to undermine our self-confidence. We put our trust into institutions (and people) who constantly let us down. We see rules being made and laws being broken, and we feel the injustices of those decisions on others, and even on ourselves. We see images which we would rather forget, and we experience things which we will never speak of again.

And then 2020 brought with it a global pandemic.

The message spoken time and time again is “do not fear.”

From the innocuous to the debilitating, the individual to societal, fear is a powerful emotional force – at work in every system that we engage with. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

Some academics have gone so far as to conclude that we are now living in a culture of fear. Fear is now the underlying currency of our politics, our economies, our social systems, our voting habits, our belief systems and our relationships. This may or may not be true, but it certainly explains something of our human experience.

What makes this suggestion all the more compelling is to realise that fear is intoxicating. It is why some people enjoy horror films or roller coasters, and why hide and seek can entertain small children. In small doses, fear releases good chemicals into the body – adrenalin gives us a quick pick-me-up which calls our body to action.

However, what is less spoken about is that fear has an impact on every system in the body. This small chemical release initially happens in the brain, and fires signals through the central nervous system, causing a whole-human-body-system response to the stimulus or trigger. Our bodies are designed to deal with this in small measures. We will often respond to a trigger by a fight or flight response. However, over a longer period of time, these small micro-aggressions can lead to what is clinically called ‘trauma’ – the ongoing exposure to experience of fear, which impacts and affects the body’s careful balance of systems.

When the human body responds to fear, symptoms can include:

Blurred vision caused by the pupils in the eyes dilating in order to take in as much light as possible, meaning that colours and shapes can be distorted.

Blackouts and gaps in memory, or a sense of being disembodied, as the brain cuts off long term memory storage.

Inability to find the right words before or after an event.

Numbness in extremities, as the blood flow is reduced in order to protect critical organs. Increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

Inability to hold down a relationship.

Tiredness and exhaustion.

Insomnia.

Abuse of food, drugs, alcohol, or other patterns of addictive behaviour.

Chronic pain and fatigue.

Permanent and irreversible changes to the brain’s ability to engage with stories and the creative arts.

Mood swings.

Helplessness.

Lack of ambition.

Paranoia.

Self harm.

Despair.

The list is extensive. Fear affects every cell in our bodies, every fibre of our being, and every relationship we seek to forge.

The Bible says, ‘do not fear.’ Our bodies may well be screaming something very different.

Continued below...

Christianity Fear

When faced with a man who thought that he had life all sorted – he was rich, confident, said all the right things, and spent his time with the right sort of people – Jesus reminds him that he is to love God with all his heart, mind, and soul, and to love his neighbour as himself. Jesus asks this of each of us.

In a culture of fear, these tasks are diseased. Loving Self (in body, mind and spirit), loving the neighbour, and even loving God – can seem impossible.

However, the opposite of fear is not fearlessness. That would make fear’s opposite recklessness. The opposite of fear is hope.

“There will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.”

Christians believe that the way to lean into the vulnerabilities caused by fear – in ourselves and in society – is to live in the hope that the worst thing is never the last thing. To live as people who are transformed by love - the Bible says that perfect love casts out all fear. To reach out and love those who others deem to be beyond concern. And to know that each and every person, including you, are loved with the same force that brought the universe into existence.

For Christians, fear does not have the last word – love does. At the very end of the Bible, there is a famous dream sequence which explores what the world looks like when God’s love gets the last word.

“There will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.”

When all is finished, and when faith, hope and love, cast out all fear – the final image is one of healing, wholeness, and emotional resilience.

In the meantime, there are things which we can do which can help us in the here and now, to engage with our fear, and begin to gain some control. For some people, this is something that we can do on our own. For other people, we will need to seek out some professional help – either through a 12 step programme, or a counsellor. For others, there are clinical symptoms which may require medical intervention – so as a headline – if any of this is ringing true for you – find the help that you need. You are not alone, and fear, trauma, shame cycles, and anxiety do not have the last word.

Below are a few tips which might help on a day to day basis, but they might not be enough to bring hope without additional help.

10 Tips

1. Control your breathing. There are many ways which you can do this – but in principle, find a way to take a deep breath, hold it, and release your breath in a controlled and measured fashion.

2. Stretch. We hold tension in our shoulders and back. Find ways to stretch out your muscles.

3. Turn off social media. We live in a bubble of scrolling and sentimentality. Stop reading the (often angry or ill-conceived) thoughts of others.

4. Find a creative outlet. Whether it’s reading poetry, or listening to music, or learning a skill – find a way to be creative. It literally uses a different part of your brain, which in fear cycles can be switched off. ‘Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives…able to leave our routine existence…envision new possibilities…it is an essential launchpad for making our hopes come true….without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future.’ Bessel Nan Der Kolk, The body keeps the score.

5. Know your triggers, and agree a way to avoid them

6. Go outside. Being in the open air, even for 20 minutes a day, can give you perspective, as well as help your body to release endorphins which help you to feel happier.

7. Stay connected. It is easy, especially when we have experience lockdown, to shut ourselves away. Call a friend, write a letter, or visit someone you like.

8. Be nice. Fear can make us really grumpy. Find ways to be kind to others, and see how much joy you can spread in the course of a day.

9. Say thank you. It has been said that thankful people are more resilient, and have a longer life expectancy. Keep a list of the things you are thankful for and remind yourself of it when you need to.

10. Get help if you need it.

Remember: The opposite of fear is not fearless. The opposite of fear is hope.

These three remain: Faith, hope and love. And perfect love casts out all fear. So do not be afraid – for God is with us. Which means the worst thing is never the last thing.