Fear is one of the most universal emotions. Whether it’s fear of being alone or a phobia of spiders, everyone experiences fear, but meditation can help.
Despite being an uncomfortable emotion, it serves an important role: It protects us from making costly mistakes and taking too many risks.
The problem happens when it overpowers us, when we experience irrational fears, and when we have extreme reactions such as panic attacks.
If you feel like you are experiencing too much fright, then it is time to make a change. And meditation can help.
Let me show you the most powerful meditation for fear and phobias.
Meditate With Me
Join me for a private meditation session. Master meditation. Master your mind.
Meditation For Fear
It is always a challenge to use meditation to become fearless. Because, as Sharon Salzberg 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 the emotion. That means directly engaging with it.
- 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 for a few minutes.
- Recall your fear. Hold the your phobia 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 their 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 that. Visualize your whiter, healthier teeth. Take your time to visualize all the good that comes from overcoming your fear. When you do this, you show your mind that a) the thing you are scared of is temporary, and b) once it’s over good things will happen.
- Once you have worked through it, sit for at least another ten minutes of mindful breathing to relax once again before continuing your day.
Again, this is a challenging meditation script. If you prefer to relax your mind without directly tackling your phobia, try using the methods below.
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 anxieties 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.”
Mudras are hand positions used in yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other spiritualities.
The best mudra for fear is the Abhaya mudra. To do this hold your arm out with the palm facing forwards (like a “stop” sign). Leave your other hand relaxed at your side.
Loving Kindness (Metta Bhavana) is a Buddhist meditation used to cultivate feelings of compassion.
If our phobias are social in nature, Loving Kindness will train the mind to see the good in people and to feel compassion from others.
Guided Meditation 2
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 is a good place for beginners to start.
You might also like to try Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
There is a direct link between guided meditation and fear.
Meditation helps to reduce the feeling of fearfulness, along with agitation, anxiety, and paranoia.
As Tara Brach says, “By engaging fear with an embodied and caring presence, we discover the fearless heart that includes but is not contracted by fear.”
Sounds good. But how does it work scientifically? Well, to understand that, we need to look at the nature of both fear and meditation.
The science of fear
The Oxford Dictionary defines fear as, the “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, like the fear of flying on a plane.
Most phobias are learned from observation, such as a child whose mother has arachnophobia and they themselves adopt a fear of spiders.
Indeed, there are only two fears that scientists know to be inborn: that of falling and that 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 feelings.
Overactivity in the amygdala can cause anxiety.
Avoidance doesn’t help
It seems obvious to try to avoid fear. But as Kristy Dalrymple [Alpert Medical School of Brown University] says “The more you try to suppress it…, the more you will actually experience it.”
When we fail to handle it properly, it leads to harmful behavior.
“We essentially drive ourselves nuts worrying about things… fear gets expressed in some maladaptive ways,” says Ahmad Hariri [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 are afraid of. 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.
Why meditation works
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 anxieties 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 a pounding heart and shallow breathing). Plus, it allows the brain to process the emotion more rationally.
Meditation trains the mind to observe emotions calmly
Meditation trains us to observe emotions and other mental phenomena from a place of calmness and rationality. This naturally reduces reactivity to fears and phobias.
In particular, 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). It lets 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 our anxieties.
Fear is a natural human emotion that, like all emotions, does have value. Were it not for fear we would act recklessly and endanger ourselves every day. It 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, meditation is just one option. Other options include psychotherapy, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, medications like beta-blockers, relaxation techniques, finding support groups, and hypnotherapy.
If you want to overcome your fear and learn to meditate properly, book an online meditation lesson with me today.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison