Fear is Like a Light Switch

We are not born with fears. We develop them. We learn quickly, and we do not forget things that frighten us. Think of fear like a light switch that is easily turned on. Once we become exposed to a potential danger (even the idea of a danger), we become hypervigilant to it. For example, if we hear about a house fire a few towns away, we may start to worry about our house burning down. We obsessively check that the stove is off, and refuse to have candles lit. But in fact, nothing in the world has made it more likely that our house will burn down. It’s just that the FearOfHouseFire switch was turned on.

This was adaptive for our ancestors. If they heard a stick crack in the woods, 19 times out of 20 it was probably no big deal. But 1 time out of 20, maybe it was a tiger. So, we humans learned to be ever on the lookout for danger. In our time, though, too many Fear switches are turned on. It seems that the media focuses most on dangerous events, so these events are on TV and social media. We may hear others talking about something that provokes anxiety (i.e., sickness, accidents, death, end of relationships).

We all have our switches turned on. This makes it very difficult to relax! Some Fears make sense to keep. Most of our Fears are irrational (danger is not likely). It is hard to turn off a Fear once it has been switched on. You will be triggered by “signs of danger” (think of the twigs in the woods for our ancestors). Your body will react before you do, like getting startled, scared, or panicky.  Your mind will be tricked by your body, and start worrying.

To turn off a fear switch:

  1. Memorize which fears are reasonable
  2. Notice when you are triggered by something
  3. Look for any evidence that there is actual danger
  4. Take a deep breath and tell yourself “It is OK. That is just my FearSwitch. I need to turn it off.”

What makes you jumpy, nervous, worried, or panicky? Click the button below to identify your Fear Switches and Fear Switch Triggers.