The word mindfulness has become a familiar word in our culture.  Being mindful gives you awareness about what is happening in the moment.  Am I feeling hot or cool?  Comfortable in this chair?  Focused or distracted in my work?  Relaxed or tense in my relationship?  Our observing mind can give us lots of information to guide choices.  And so why would being mindful of our fear help us in our relationships and life?

Tara Brach gives three important reasons in her workshop, “Facing Fear to De-Condition Fear Using Mindfulness.”  First of all, self-consciousness makes us afraid to be spontaneous or natural.  Too much self-consciousness often creates a  preoccupation with one’s appearance or one’s actions. This can make it difficult to look outward and notice what is happening in the room or with another person and engage from the ease of your thoughts or feelings in that moment.  It is often in the looking outward to others that we can move away from our self-consciousness.  Secondly, fear keeps us from having closeness or intimacy.  Feeling close to another human being requires our willingness to share honestly the ups and downs of our everyday lives; the pain and struggle, the times we triumph, our sadness, anger, disappointment, imperfection.  Fear can stop us from accepting our humanness and block wanting to show the places we feel insecure or unworthy.  We all have them!  Telling someone else helps us feel less alone and closer to that individual.  Thirdly, fear inhibits our vulnerability and risk-taking.  If our fear tells us we need to know everything before we even start a new project or be right when we share an opinion, than we often stop taking those risks because we fear we may look stupid or incompetent.  Our fear gets in the way of asking for support when going through a difficult loss or challenge if we cannot let down and show we are having a hard time. Having feelings often makes us experience shame.  We can practice not making ourselves wrong.  It is not our fault we have feelings, they are our allies, and we are not alone.  

So Brach talks about a few simple things we can do to help calm our fear. The first is just to begin by naming the fear.  “I feel afraid to meet new people or I feel afraid to talk to my boss about a raise or I feel afraid to tell my partner I am feeling angry.”  When we acknowledge the fear to ourselves, our frontal cortex lights up to help us use language and problem solve with more clarity and our amygdala, that triggers fight or flight, calms down. The second helpful response is to simply allow the fear to be there.  You don’t need to push it away or try to ignore it. By  recognizing and allowing the fear, it begins to lose its’ power over you.  It often helps to simply breathe into the fear and feel where it is in your body.  By breathing a few slow deep breaths into this area,  you may begin to feel more relaxed. After all, meeting new people or having disagreements in relationships includes having to face the fear that people may not like us or they may disagree with our values or opinions.  We do risk getting hurt or feeling rejected, but can then discover that we can handle what happens by growing more comfortable with our fearful expectations.  Sometimes it is really helpful to just breathe and offer kindness to yourself when you are risking outside of your comfort zone. 

Brach also importantly notes that dealing with fear around a trauma will require more safety,  a sense of belonging and connectedness before simply recognizing and allowing the fear.   It is important to have adequate resources, which may include a skilled professional.