Face your fears -- safely

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 10:51 AM

Emily Shepherd

The limbic system is the oldest part of your brain. Humans from the earliest points in history relied on their limbic systems in order to survive. One of the central features of your limbic system is your thalamus, which, among other things, instigates your fight or flight response.

In a world of primitive humans, the fight or flight response is the difference between survival and being mauled by a tiger. However, in our world of highly developed frontal cortexes, the limbic system can get a bit pesky.

Most teenagers never face death via tiger, but they do face everything else that could possibly happen in life, be it death, social expectations, dealing with people or more. Yet some of the fears most teenagers have are not only ridiculous but prevent us from doing things that are necessary for success.

There are three ways that teenagers can deal with their stress and anxiety. Two of them are destructive methods, while the third is the ideal way.

The first approach is the passive way to deal with fear. The technique comes of an unwillingness to face your fears. A person will cease to put themselves in situations where they may feel discomfort, embarrassment or full-blown panic. In extreme cases, a person develops agoraphobia, the fear of open areas, crowds and people; the fear that causes people to stay in their houses for months or years without leaving.

This is the reason why many talented students do not enter contests or try out for school plays. They are too afraid of failure or looking foolish. Some are afraid that they are going to faint or forget what they’re supposed to do. One way to combat this type of fear is to focus a little bit on spontaneity. People back out of opportunities sometimes because they hesitate and give their minds time to convince them that the opportunity is actually a bad idea.

Conquering a fear can seem like a huge undertaking, but a lot of satisfaction can be gained when it’s done. Spontaneity can help with that by refusing to give the brain enough time to back out of a situation. Once you’ve gained confidence doing something spontaneous, a lot of the things you’re afraid of will no longer seem so scary.

For students who have a hard time asking teachers for help, if they can raise their hand just one time, on a whim, and ask for help, then doing it again won’t seem so scary. Any good student knows that asking for help is invaluable, so overcoming a fear like this would help a student tremendously, lending them confidence in many different areas when their grades improve.

On the opposite extreme of dealing with fear, there are risk takers. Sometimes people are so intent on ignoring their fears and living life that they begin to exhibit risky behaviors just to prove that they are insusceptible to fear. There is a good reason to be afraid of heights or falling off cliffs, for instance. Just because you are afraid of falling off a cliff without a parachute doesn’t mean that you should go jump off a cliff without a parachute, just to say that you can overcome your fears.

I once heard a girl say that she was open to risky acts such as unprotected sex or drugs because people were afraid of them, and she was determined not to miss out on an experience just because it was too risky/scary. Some people get so afraid that they are going to be held back by their fear that they do things that are obviously stupid. Many teenagers get mixed up in harmful, illegal drugs because they fear they will not be socially accepted and therefore try too hard to be.

On the healthy side, people who have learned to deal with their fears have learned to categorize them. Some fears fall under the category of avoidance, things that should be regarded with a healthy amount of respect. These are fears that will keep you from dying a horrible death. It is the fear of ledges and cliffs that helps you avoid falling off them. It’s the fear that keeps you from entering a dark alley. It’s the fear that keeps you from driving too recklessly.

Other fears fall under the category of disregard. These fears are things like test anxiety, public speaking or the fear of failure — the types of fears that prevent you from living your life with some degree of success. These are the fears that will convince you that you can’t run for the student council because you wouldn’t be able to get anyone to vote for you, or that you can’t try out for the soccer team because you aren’t as good at soccer as others are.

In the act of being spontaneous, a person can become less afraid of whatever it is that may be preventing them from action. They can become more comfortable with the thought of the action, and the experience they gain will help them to eliminate some of the false anticipation of failure.

If teenagers could learn to categorize and deal with their fears rationally, they would become more successful — and a lot less dead. If every teen could overcome their test anxieties, for instance, we would probably do much better on our tests, and I don’t think anyone would complain about getting higher grades.

Emily Shepherd is a senior at Bear River High School. Email her at emilys_hampster@yahoo.com.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.