One of the best ways to overcome worry, anxiety, and fright is to use meditation for overcoming fear.
Yes, you can become fearless with meditation. And there are many options, including mantras, mudras, Buddhist meditations, visualizations, and guided meditation for fear.
Everyone has fears and phobias.
Whether it’s fear of being alone or fear of spiders or aeroplanes, everyone experiences fear. Although it feels negative and can be painful, fear serves an important role: It protects us from making costly mistakes and taking too many risks.
The problem happens when fears overpower us, when we experience irrational fears, and, when we have extreme reactions such as panic attacks [READ: Meditation For Panic Attacks].
When fear is taking, over, it’s time to learn how to control fear and anxiety. And one of the best ways to do that is by using meditation for fear, which can be used alongside other methods such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Benefits of Meditation for Overcoming Fear
There is a direct link between meditation and fear.
Meditation helps to reduce the feeling of fear, along with agitation, anxiety, and paranoia. As Tara Brach [American psychologist, author, and proponent of Buddhist meditation] says, “By engaging fear with an embodied and caring presence, we discover the fearless heart that includes but is not contracted by fear.”
But to understand how meditation helps with fear, we need to look at the nature of both fear and meditation.
What is fear?
The Oxford Dictionary defines fear as, “emotion of pain or uneasiness caused by the sense of impending danger, or by the prospect of some possible evil.”
It is a natural human emotion that alerts us to dangers. Back in prehistoric times, we needed fear to alert us of predators to survive. But today, a lot of it is irrational fear, like the fear of flying on a plane.
Most fears are learned from observation, such as a child whose mother has arachnophobia and they themselves adopt fear of spiders. Indeed, there are only two fears that scientists know to be inborn: fear of falling and fear of loud noises. Fear of falling is essential to keep us from going too close to dangerous edges like cliffs. And the fear of loud noises is important for informing us of when a physical threat is present, like a dangerous animal or a falling tree.
Fear alerts us of danger so we can stay safe.
The fear response is created by a part of the brain called the amygdala, which comes from the Greek word for almond, which it represents. The amygdala creates the “fight or flight” response that makes your heart pound faster and your breath quicken. The amygdala is involved with the connection between the bodily expression of emotions and regions of the brain that create conscious feeling. Overactivity in the amygdala can cause anxiety and fear.
Avoiding fear doesn’t help
It seems obvious to try to avoid fear. But as Kristy Dalrymple [clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, Alpert Medical School of Brown University] says “The more you try to suppress fear…, the more you will actually experience it.”
When we fail to handle fear properly, it leads to harmful behaviour.
“We essentially drive ourselves nuts worrying about things… fear gets expressed in some maladaptive ways,” says Ahmad Hariri [ professor of psychology and neuroscience, Duke University].
Cruelly, one of the main ways of overcoming fear is called fear exposure, which is the gradual incrementation of exposure to the thing we fear. When we do this, we reduce the fear memory in the amygdala and move it to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is the higher processing centre.
So what’s the connection between fear and meditation?
Meditation is a psychological exercise stemming primarily from Buddhism. When we meditate, we focus the mind on the present moment. We do this using various techniques, for instance, Vipassana, Anapanasati, and guided meditations for fear.
Meditation has many positive effects on the brain, and indeed many of those effects are related to fear.
For starters, meditation reduces activation of the amygdala and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, according to research published on Scientific American.
Meditation trains the mind to move fear away from the amygdala (which creates the “fight or flight” response) and towards the prefrontal cortex, which is a higher-level thinking part of the brain. This reduces the physiological reaction to fear (such as pounding heart and shallow breathing) and allows the brain to process fear more rationally.
Meditation trains the mind to observe emotions calmly.
Methods such as the Buddhist method of Vipassana train us to observe emotions and other mental phenomena from a place of calmness and rationality. This naturally reduces reactivity to fears and phobias, such that a claustrophobic person can learn not to feel afraid in tight spaces.
Mindfulness meditation, the practise of focusing the mind on the present moment without judgment, allows us to move away from our learned fears (which are based on memory). They let us experience the present moment as its own thing. In turn, this helps us process our former fears in new, healthier ways.
Plus, mindfulness stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which increases feelings of relaxation that are countermeasures to fear.
Meditation For Overcoming Fear [Script]
It is always a challenge to use meditation to become fearless. Because. as Sharon Salzberg [New York Times bestselling author and teacher of Buddhist meditation practices] says, “Fear isn’t an easy feeling to allow, to take some time with, to face with clarity and compassion.”
If you want to become fearless with meditation you must work through your fear, which means directly engaging with it. That’s why this is a challenge. If you feel pained at any time, stop.
Meditation to become fearless
- Sit comfortably on a meditation chair. Check your posture. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed. Lightly tuck in your chin to elongate your neck.
- Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing as you would in Anapanasati (mindful breathing). Watch your breath moving in and out of your body. I recommend sitting doing Anapanasati for a minimum of ten minutes, so you are fully relaxed before you continue.
- Recall your fear. Hold the thing that you fear in your mind. See an image of it happening. For instance, if you’re afraid of going to the dentist, imagine yourself sitting in the dentist’s chair.
- Now imagine the scene continuing. Imagine the dentist doing the work. Continue to let this image progress all the way to its natural resolution (for instance, leaving the dental office).
- While you are visualizing this scene, you will naturally feel negative emotions. Label those emotions like you would in Buddhist Vipassana (saying, “This is just a feeling” or “This is just a thought”).
- It is vital that you continue the scene all the way to its natural resolution.
- Now visualize what happens after the thing you fear. So, for our example, imagine that you’ve left the dental office and you feel proud of the fact that you faced your fear. Visualize your whiter, healthier teeth. Take your time to visualize all the good that comes from overcoming your fear. What’s happening now is that we are showing our mind that a) the thing we fear is temporary, and b) once it’s over good things will happen.
- Once you have worked through your fear, sit for at least another ten minutes of mindful breathing to relax once again before continuing with your day.
Again, this is a challenging meditation script. If you prefer to relax your mind without directly tackling your fear, try using the methods below.
Best Types Of Meditation For Overcoming Fear
There are various meditation techniques for fear. The following are some of the best.
Also read: Meditation for Anxiety.
Anapanasati, or “mindful breathing”, is a Buddhist meditation in which we observe the breath as it moves through the body. This is one of the best meditations for fear because it promotes calmness, relaxation, and other emotions that are opposite to anxiety.
Trait mindfulness (the quality of being mindful, as opposed to State Mindfulness, which is a meditation) trains us to live in the present moment. This moves us away from memory-based fears and enables us to see the present moment for what it is. So instead of thinking, “I’m on a plane and I’m afraid of flying”, we simply think, “I’m sitting on a seat in a safe vehicle.”
Mudra for Fear:
Mudras are hand positions used in yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other spiritualities. The best mudra for fear is the Abhaya mudra, which is performed by holding the arm out with the palm facing forwards (like a “stop” sign). The other hands is left in a relaxed position.
Mantra for fear:
Mantras are specific words and phrases used primarily in Hinduism and Kundalini yoga. The best mantra for fear is the Ganesh mantra as follows:
ऊँ गतत्रासाय नमः
Om gahta-traah-saaya namaha
This means, “O Lord Ganesha, Please remove the anxiety caused to us”.
Loving Kindness (Metta Bhavana) is a Buddhist meditation used to cultivate feelings of compassion. If our fears are social in nature, this method trains the mind to see the good in people and to feel compassion from others, which helps soothe our anxiety.
Guided Meditation For Fear And Anxiety
By far the easiest option is to use a guided meditation for fear anxiety. Do note that research from Harvard suggests that this is not the most powerful option. However, a guided meditation for fear and anxiety is a good place for beginners to start.
Fear is a natural human emotion that, like all emotions, does have value. Were it not for fear we would all act recklessly and endanger ourselves every day. Fear helps keep us safe. But it becomes a problem when we have an abundance of irrational fears.
There are many ways to handle fear, and, indeed, using meditation for overcoming fear is just one option. Other options include psychotherapy, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, medications like beta-blockers, relaxation techniques, finding support groups, and hypnotherapy.
If you want to overcome your fear and learn meditation, book an online meditation lesson with me today.