Life is very good at scaring us. It is a reality of the human condition that there are many things we cannot control. Uncertainty creates fear about what will happen next. 

But, living in a state of fearfulness is not conducive to our well-being or a life of joy. 

When life presents us with a situation that inspires fear, we have a choice as to how we will respond. We all face times of uncertainty. The daily news demonstrates that anything can happen. 

Living beyond our fear can be a struggle. But it is one worth making. As Henry Emmons says in The Chemistry of Calm – 

“To live with some measure of acceptance, gratitude, forgiveness, and generosity, to find a level of openness and tranquility in the face of such fearful things – these are acts of great courage. And it is good medicine, too-we feel better when we live with a more open heart.”

Feeling Fearful


Fear is a feeling we experience when our brain senses a threat. It is an essential survival mechanism that alerts us to danger and sends signals throughout the body to prepare it for fight or flight.

Feeling fear is instinctual and occurs within a 10th of a second from when the brain determines there is something wrong. (1)

Fear is triggered in the brain, but it is a whole-body response. If you’ve ever had goosebumps from feeling scared or felt the pounding of your heart during a tense movie, you know the body reacts to what the brain is sensing.

When the brain triggers a fear response, there is a release of hormones that stimulate the body to prepare for the threat. Heart and respiratory rate increase, blood pressure goes up, muscles are ready for action, and our brain becomes sharp and focused. (1)

While our fear response is a good thing when faced with a genuine threat to our safety, no one wants to walk around feeling scared all the time. It’s easy enough in the information age to find things that frighten us. But, our task is to choose hope over fear and courage in the face of uncertainty.

How Fear Affects Wellness

Living in constant fear is not good for us. When we cannot separate actual threats from the normal uncertainties of life, we will feel scared all the time.

This ongoing fear can contribute to anxiety and all the accompanying health consequences.

If we are constantly in a fearful fight or flight state, the health of the mind, body, and spirit are worn down. In addition, feeling scared goes beyond our physical and mental selves and is intricately related to our spiritual well-being.

Fear and the Mind


Regular exposure to feelings of fear causes the brain to become sensitized. As a result, it will more easily produce a fear response even in the absence of a threatening stimulus. (2) This means that the more often we react with fear, the more likely we will experience fear in the future. 

For example, if you saved your young child from running out into the road, that would be a very anxious and fearful experience. Ideally, the fear should subside after the situation is over. However, if you continue to replay what happened over and over and live in fear of similar events, you are essentially conditioning your brain to be fearful.

Chronically feeling fearful will make it more difficult to experience love and joy. It can even lead to phobias and obsessive-compulsive behaviors if not appropriately managed. (3)

Fear and the Body

Feeling scared is exhausting. The rush of adrenaline combined with the mental fatigue from ruminating and worrying depletes the body’s resources.

Chronic fear is associated with poor physical health, including (3):

  • Headaches
  • Decreased immune system function
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Chronic pain

The state of the mind is intricately linked with the health of the body. When the mind lives in fear, the body expresses those feelings as a physical condition, which is not optimal for long-term health.

Fear and Spirituality


How we respond in the face of uncertainty has a lot to say about the health of our spirit. When we view the world from a place of acceptance and openness, we are more likely to find skills to cope during challenging times.

If we struggle to accept that we are not in control of many aspects of life, we will feel more fearful when we think about all the what-ifs we may face. 

As H.P. Lovecraft so aptly stated, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” 

Some theorists consider the fear of the unknown to be the fundamental fear at the root of what makes us feel scared. (4)

Healthy spirituality recognizes that there are greater forces at work in the world. This acknowledgment provides a buffer against fear. When we accept that we are not in control, we are, in essence, also accepting the uncertainties inherent in life. 

When we acknowledge and accept uncertainties, they lose their power to fill us with dread. Admitting we are not in control of everything provides perspective and allows us to approach life from a place of openness. 

Conversely, if we allow fear of the unknown a foothold in our spirit, it can lead to bitterness, depression, and despair. (3)

Uncertainty Tolerance


For the most part, we all must deal with a similar set of risks in life. At any time, we or a loved one could become ill, accidents can occur, job loss and financial uncertainties are common, and every parent fears for the health and safety of their kids. 

Yet, some people manage the fear of life’s unknowns well, while others feel anxious and unable to move forward. The term for this difference is “uncertainty tolerance,” which refers to how we respond when we do not know what will happen. (5

Everyone’s tolerance for uncertainty is different. To assess your personal level of uncertainty tolerance, pay attention to how you operate in daily life. 

  • Observe how well you handle change. Do you welcome it or avoid it?
  • Do you procrastinate or delay making decisions?
  • Are you able to be flexible when things do not go as expected? 
  • Do you spend a lot of time researching and gathering information before making decisions?
  • Do you do a lot of double-checking and ask others for reassurance?

Your answers to these questions can tell you a lot about how well you tolerate uncertainty. Your level of tolerance, in turn, will determine how often you feel scared vs. hopeful. 

While uncertainty tolerance is influenced by a combination of genetics, personality, and environmental influences, you have a say in whether you work to boost your tolerance or give in to fear.

Getting Comfortable with the Unknown

To be less afraid, we have to get comfortable with uncertainty and all of life’s unknowns. 

If your tolerance for uncertainty is low, you will have to practice and create a mental and spiritual shift in how you approach life. Specific strategies can help desensitize you to your fear response and cultivate an attitude of acceptance.

Practice Mindfulness When You Feel Afraid


Mindfulness has many benefits. When managing feelings of fear, mindfulness can hold up a mirror and allow you to recognize the source. At the heart of most fear is the big unknown making us feel a lack of control.

Being aware and mindful when you feel scared can shift your perspective. It presents you with the opportunity to choose your response. You can opt to acknowledge and accept what you cannot control.

Open the Be Well app and make a note of what you are feeling. The app not only helps you be mindful, but it will also give you options for how to manage your fear. Choosing a soothing soundscape, upbeat music, or doing some breathing exercises are just a few of the coping methods available to you in the app.

Acceptance takes courage which at its heart is a leap of faith. The more often you take that leap, the easier it will get.

Take Your Own Advice

When you feel scared, imagine how you might talk to a good friend if they shared those same feelings with you. It’s normal for people to be much more supportive and rational when advising a friend than themselves. 

Think about what you would tell your best friend to soothe their fear, and then take your own advice. You are worthy of the same wisdom and acceptance you provide to those you love.

Limit Your Exposure to the News


We can all agree that most of what is reported in the news does not make us feel good. In fact, exposure to the news can make us feel anxious and unsettled. (6

While being well informed has its benefits, if the overall impact of keeping up with the news is that you feel fearful and anxious, it’s time for a change. 

As you work to manage your fear response and tolerance for uncertainty, consider limiting your consumption of the news. Continuing to engage in activities that trigger a fear response will only exacerbate your sensitivity to fear. Instead, planning time to step back and disconnect from the news can provide perspective on what matters in your day-to-day life. 

If you choose to return to consuming the news regularly, find a healthy balance of information and peace of mind.

Cultivate a Spiritual Connection

A deeper connection to our spiritual selves is an essential part of the path to acceptance. Admitting we are not in control of everything is an opportunity to acknowledge life’s spiritual dimension and connect with something greater than ourselves.

Spiritual wellness is one of the 8 aspects of wellness we need to cultivate, especially when managing fear. The Be Well app uses meditation, meditative movements, and inspiring music as ways to cultivate our spiritual connection.

Think in Terms of Likelihood Not Possibilities


It is a normal part of the human psyche to rate bad things as more likely to happen simply because they are bad. This is linked to negativity bias and our mind’s tendency to focus more on unpleasant things. (7)

Just because we feel afraid of something does not mean it is likely to happen, even if it feels that way.  Anything is possible, but not everything is likely. 

For example, you may feel scared when you get on a plane to fly somewhere. It is technically possible the plane could crash; however, it is not at all likely. The feeling of fear tricks us into thinking that what we are worried about is somehow more likely to happen simply because we feel worried. 

Even if you’re not superstitious, fear can trick you into thinking all your thoughts are premonitions. 

But, that is not the case. If you pause for a moment and remember all the times your fear told you something bad was going to happen, you would also have to admit that almost none of it did. Having fearful thoughts isn’t a premonition; it’s just human. 

We have to train our brains to think about the likelihood of what will happen, not all the farfetched possibilities. It can be hard to be rational when scared, but we have to let logic win over time. Working with mindfulness is key to recognize when we have allowed our minds to wander down the rabbit trails of every possible bad outcome. 

Our job is to pull our thoughts out of possibilities and back onto the solid ground of likelihood.

Putting Fear in Its Place


It is a normal part of human emotions to feel fearful and scared at times. But, we don’t want to live in fear.

A healthy perspective on life acknowledges and accepts that bad things can and will happen. But we have to live out of our best hopes, not our worst fears. This is different from denial. Denial attempts to ignore the truth, while hope faces reality and chooses not to give in to despair.

Fear is only one human emotion and by no means the most important. Our well-being requires us to live with all our feelings and not let the strength of our fear be stronger than our courage and joy.