Assalamu ‘alaikum to my dear sisters all over the globe. I hope that you are feeling peaceful and content. However, human beings face fear on a daily basis, due to one reason or another. As Muslims, we learn to fear Allah (SAW) from a young age, and it serves as a protection from committing sins. However, if we really look deeper, our love for Allah (SWT) is a greater motivator towards good than fear could ever be. Practically speaking, fear helps to keep us safe, but if not managed, fear can hijack our lives completely and stop us in our tracks. So let’s explore what fear is, how it impacts us, and some practical ways to stop it from adversely affecting our lives.
What is fear? The dictionary describes it as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” This is a general definition of fear, and breaking it down, we will notice that fear exists in two large categories. First category: the fear that exists when we are facing a real, physical threat. This happens in an instance, say in a car accident, storm, or even something burning on the stove. This “threat” occurs and we take action almost instantly.
The second category is the fear that overtakes us when we imagine something going wrong. For example, you could be sitting at home and working on something, but all of a sudden you think about an event you’re planning three months away. You have the thought that people won’t turn up. Suddenly, you’re in an anxious and fearful place, worrying about the event. Reflect on the last time you were worrying about something. How did it feel while you were worrying? What impact did that have on you?
Fear is based on the future:
Let’s say you had a bad experience, to be honest, who hasn’t? For example, you failed your driving test the first time. That failure has you worrying about what might happen the next time you take it. So even though you think you’re fearful about something from the past, the past event linked to this has already happened. You are actually fearful about something “bad” happening in the future! Fear is always based on future events. Life can only be lived in this moment, and we all ruin our present by being fearful about things that aren’t happening right now. Remember, if it was a real threat, you would just be reacting- you wouldn’t have time to think about it. The fears we face in our daily lives are mostly perceived- and so, something can be done about easing them.
We make our own fears come true!
Our minds filter all information that comes in according to what we tune in to. So if tune in to “something’s wrong,” all the information coming in will go through that filter. Over time, it will become habitual. Your mind’s job is to prove you right, so you will end up realizing your fears. This is how our fears can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Remember that the opposite is also true. If your filters are set to notice what’s good in your life, you will see a lot of that, and contentment will follow.
Ongoing fear affects our health
Our bodies have an in-built system to deal with dangerous situations. It’s called the “fight-flight-freeze” response. When we see danger coming, the mind activates an alarm, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, and our bodies are ready to take action in an instant. These hormones prepare our bodies to fight or flee quickly. Once we have averted the danger, the body can relax and go back to normal.
Remember that the mind can’t tell the difference between real and imagined danger. So if you’re worrying about failing a test, the same hormones will be activated as-if you were fighting off a lion. Since there’s no real danger present, you are not taking any physical action. The hormones keep circulating in the body, giving you that anxious, jittery feeling. Stress hormones remaining in circulation over time will inhibit important functions and make us sick.
Feeling fearful will affect your whole life
Our fears can hijack our whole lives if we allow them to. Not only will our health be impacted, we will be more likely to be defensive or argumentative with loved ones. Maybe we won’t attempt certain things that we really want to do, or we overreact to small things; all because we have an alarm ringing inside, that we may not even be aware of. So let’s explore some practical strategies on how we can ease the internal alarm bell and get on with living more fulfilling lives.
First strategy: Release the stress hormones
These “stress” hormones are essential to our survival because they help us to avert danger, but they should not be there all the time. So if you find yourself feeling anxious or fearful for no apparent reason, go and work some of these hormones off. The most helpful method is to exercise. These hormones are designed to be used during movement, so get that body moving.
Second strategy: Remember the good things
If you consciously focus on the good things, your mind will begin to make that a habit over time. The more good things you notice, the bigger the chances of your fears calming down. Take five minutes out of every day, and write down all the good things that happened during that day. Keep all of these in a journal, so you can read them anytime. You can make a note of absolutely anything- from a good cup of tea, to a chat with a friend. Every good thing matters.
Third strategy: Focus on what is in your control
Our fears are often about things that we don’t control. Reflect on your worries, are they mostly about what’s not in your control? Divide a piece of paper into two columns. Label one “in my control” and the other “not in my control.” Next, think about something you’re feeling fearful about, and write down all the relevant aspects in the relevant column. Next, remind yourself to focus on the things you do control, such as your actions, words, thoughts, etc. Each time you focus on those, your fears will begin to ease, because your focus is where it needs to be.
We all face fears, and they do help us avert all sorts of troubles. These tips are for the times when our imagined worries hijack our lives. Insha’Allah I hope that you will find these tips useful in creating more peace and fulfillment in your life.
Sayeda Habib is a highly qualified professional coach. She coaches Muslim women to help them feel empowered and create results in their lives. She coaches clients one to one and also runs group workshops. She holds the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential issued by the International Coach Federation. She is the author of “Discover the Best in You: Life Coaching for Muslims.” She also contributes to various online and print publications. She has been featured in the media in various countries including Pakistan, the UAE and the United Kingdom. To find out more, log on to www.makelifehappen.com or email at Sayeda@makelifehappen.com