Updated: Oct 19, 2020
by Rebecca Hicks, RN BScN
Fear is something we are born with. Minutes after a baby is born they will “startle” and cry when they hear loud noises and feel the cold air; a stark difference from their world inside the womb. As we age our fears often change from fears of the dark to fears of failure, sickness, and death.
Think of how many things we do on a daily basis that-if stripped down to the core- is based in fear! Can’t think of any examples? How about wearing your seatbelt (fear of getting into car accident or getting a ticket), brushing your teeth (fear of rotting teeth and gums), checking your bank account (fear of not having enough money to pay your bills), crossing the street when you see a large barking dog (fear of getting attacked) just to name a few. Of course these are all good fears as they keep us healthy and safe, and can potentially steer us from disaster. But sometimes we fear too much, which can lead to a chronic state of stress. My hope is that after reading today’s blog you will come to understand what fear is, how our body responds to fear, and how we can overcome fear.
Biological Perspective of Fear
Fear is defined as “a distressing emotion caused by impending danger whether the threat is real or imagined”. When a person encounters a potential harm, the amygdala (found in your brain) interprets this information and generates the fear emotion. The amygdala will then send an impulse to the hypothalamus which will initiate the sympathetic nervous system. Various systems throughout the body (endocrine, circulatory, respiratory and others) receive the “fear message” which causes a series of responses. For example, the endocrine system responds by producing adrenaline and cortisone hormones from the adrenal glands (which are located at the top of the kidneys) and pumping these hormones through the blood system. Adrenaline increases heart rate and breathing while cortisone increases blood sugars. When the circulatory and respiratory systems are alerted to the “fear message” (from the hypothalamus) they respond by decreasing the digestive, immune, urinary, and the reproductive system.
All of these biological response are designed to help you in responding to the fear, whether that means to fight, flight, or freeze! Isn’t it amazing how God created us? Fear can be a really good thing in helping us to survive, but when we fear constantly, our nervous system is running in over-drive, which can lead to chronic stress. When our bodies experience chronic stress (or fear), our immune and digestive system are altered, sleep cycles can be disturbed, and we can experience things like high blood pressure and tension headaches (just to name a few).
Spiritual Perspective of Fear
As I was preparing for this blog, I started to think about humans and how fearful we are and why God would create us this way. I was reminded of the very first story in the Bible, back to the Garden of Eden. God had created the heavens, earth, animals, Adam, Eve, and saw that all was good. Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God and the creatures of the world, having no needs that were unmet, and there was no mention of fear. Satan enters the scene, the sneaky snake, who plants the idea in Eve’s head that she is missing out by not eating from the one tree God asked them not to touch. This may be the first mention of FOMO (fear of missing out) in history!
Eve starts to wonder what she is missing out on by not eating from the tree of knowledge and gives in to the snake’s temptation. After convincing her husband to eat the fruit, fear enters in. Realizing they are naked, they fear how God is going to respond, and at that moment their whole life changes (and the rest of humanity for that matter). It’s pretty evident in the remaining hundreds of stories in the Bible, how fearful humans are and the need for help beyond our own abilities. Story after story in the Bible reveal humans facing adversity such as living under evil dictators, infertility, famine, wars, and slavery. And story after story we read of courageous men and women choosing to trust in God who sees them through, performs miracles, and changes impossible situations.
Freedom from Fear
I’ll start by saying that as a nurse, I’m totally behind traditional therapies to overcome fear such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. Although I’m not trained to do these therapies with my clients (I leave that to our highly skilled social workers!), I’ve seen clients do amazing with therapy in overcoming their fears and anxieties. This is a great solution for anyone suffering from specific fears or chronic anxiety. As a Christian, I can’t help but want to explore this issue a little deeper spiritually, and I feel that I can do that here in this forum. If I haven’t lost you yet, continue along with me to consider what I mean.
It’s important when we are fearful to dig deeper and see what the root cause is of the fear. Sometimes the root cause is that we are afraid of failure, other times it may be that we are afraid of giving up control. I believe that the underlying reason behind many of our fears is our fear of death, especially during a global pandemic! Going back to the examples I used at the beginning, we wear a seat belt to avoid death, we fear not being able to provide for our families because if we don’t have shelter and food we’ll die. We fear death because we don’t want to leave our families behind and we don’t know what comes after death.
However, the Bible tells us that we don’t need to fear death, because Jesus Christ died and rose again to give us eternal life with Him. All we need to do is believe in Him, that’s it (John 3:16). Speaking from my own experience, knowing that there is life beyond this earth, and knowing that there is a God who loves me and cares for me, gives me a freedom like I’ve never experienced before. Sure, I still have fears and daily anxieties. But, I continually give these fears and worries to God over and over, and it provides me with a peace beyond anything I’ve ever experienced (no self-care, mindfulness routine has ever come close).
Practical Ways to Overcome Fear
Here are some practical ways to overcome our daily fears and those bigger fears that we carry with us on the daily. I pray that you will find hope and peace from fear.
Replace your fearful thoughts with things that are true. Here are some Bible verses that have provided me with comfort in fearful times:
-“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self- discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7
-“Be strong and courageous…Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” 1 Chronicles 28:20
-“The Lord is my light and my salvation- so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” Psalm 27:1-2
-“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
-“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
Listen to worship music, here’s a few songs that I’ve found comforting:
-Ain’t No Grave- Bethel Music & Molly Skaggs
-Highs & Lows- Hillsong Young & Free
-No Longer Slaves- Bethel Music
-Fear is a Liar- Zach Williams
-Surrounded (Fight My Battles)-UPPERROOM
Pray, pray, and pray again. Give your requests, fears, worries, and even those ugly thoughts to God. He is completely aware of your thought and He is not troubled by them. Talk to Him, lean into Him, be comforted in His love and strength.