Fear vs. Danger: knowing the difference might save your life
Fear has a bad reputation.
So, let’s get clear about something. As I see it, fear is not an inherently negative emotion.
Fear, like all emotions, is simply a communication tool. It tells us that something does not feel okay. Fear seeks to protect us from a perceived danger.
But, here’s the important part: our job is to consciously identify if that protection is warranted. In other words, is the threat as real as our psyche perceives? And, if so, what is the most effective way to navigate the threat?
Fear is an instinctive response that tells us that we need to take action to prevent or avoid danger. It’s when we stay in a constant state of fear—and are either immobilized by it, project it outward to control our situation, or some other unsupportive behavior, that it becomes problematic.
Right now, as I perceive it, there are a number of actual dangers on the planet. And in response to these dangers, it is appropriate and healthy to feel fear as a mobilization response.
When fear activates us in this way, it can be life-saving. It can activate our nervous system to respond to a danger accordingly. If we experience unwarranted fear, or maintain fear for longer than is necessary to respond to an acute threat, that’s when it becomes toxic to our nervous system and immune system.
Learning how to discern between fear and danger is not always easy. And that’s, of course, where the trouble lies. Most of us are still responding to a previously established physiological response to trauma. So whether or not we are experiencing acute danger, we often are responding with a sub-conscious fight, flight, freeze, fawn or flop response.
So, yes, we have to be careful about fear.
But I think it’s incredibly important, especially at this time, that we do not label fear as inherently negative. People are weaponizing this word, right now. Don’t fall for it. Get honest with yourself though.
So how do we discern between actual danger and fear?
Ask yourself (or loved ones you are supporting) very targeted questions like:
What exactly am I afraid of in this situation?
Is the fear related to an acute danger or is it triggering an old story where I was in harm’s way?
What aspects of the situation do I have the power to effect?
In what ways can I better support myself around this concern or danger?