Fear and anxiety are natural responses to hazards in our everyday lives. While fear serves a significant purpose for all animals (i.e. - keeping us alive), modern humans often have the same "fight or flight" reactions to events as mundane as running late or meeting new people.

When fear starts doing more harm than good, it's helpful to have some tools available to get back to an emotional baseline. Here are five quick tips for understanding and managing fear as it arises.

1. Name it. As Tara Brach says in the video above, simply naming an emotion can help us move our thinking away from the amygdala--a very old region of the brain associated with fear and hyperarousal--and back to the frontal cortex and higher-level cognition. This allows us to be proactive rather than reactive, and positions us to look objectively at a problem.

2. Observe it. What bodily sensations are you feeling (tightness, tension, heat/cold)? Where are you feeling it (stomach, heart, head)? Similar to naming, observing our fear and how it affects us can help activate the analytical part of our brain and break us out of the fear cycle. It can also help bring our awareness into our bodies and back to the reality of the present moment.

3. Set judgment aside. Sometimes people are not only upset by fear, but they are upset with themselves for being afraid. In this case, try to remember that your brain is simply doing what it evolved to do. There's absolutely nothing wrong with you--in fact, you share this same physiological response with every other human and animal. So go easy on yourself; everyone gets scared sometimes.

4. Give compassion to it. It's important to offer ourselves space for compassion and to create opportunities to respond rather than react. Think about what might comfort you in the present moment. What might you offer to someone else in a similar situation? Sometimes just treating yourself with kindness and a self-hug can make all the difference.

5. Shift your attention. Fear is often rooted in trying to control the past, present, or future. Focusing on experiencing life, rather than trying to be a master of it, can make a huge difference in how we perceive and manage fear. Mindfulness practices like Bell Focus can bring our attention back to the present moment, and breathing practices like Breath Counting can bring our awareness into our physical bodies, while also triggering the parasympathetic--or calming--response in our nervous system.

We hope you enjoyed the video above! If you're interested in learning more about mindfulness, fear, and the amygdala, you can read this research paper here.


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Mindfulness exercises provide children with the tools they need to self-regulate when facing difficult or stressful situations. Check out our blog for more tips on how to integrate mindfulness and social-emotional learning into your school community!

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