Book Summary: Fear Less by Dr. Pippa Grange

Quick Summary: According to Fear Less, it’s possible that you’re too frightened to realize your own terror. It’s possible that you’re unaware of the nature of your fears. You may tell yourself that you’re afraid of heights and sharks, but what really frightens you is the thought of failing or the worry that no one will ever love you.

As if that weren’t bad enough, our own brains actively work against us by automatically hitting the panic button as soon as we perceive even the slightest threat. To free yourself from your fears, you need the help of a trained psychologist and a brave free diver.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: Because of evolutionary design, fear affects your mind and body in powerful ways

It’s a phone call. To hear “I’m afraid I’ve bad news” when you pick it up, use the phrase “I’m afraid.” Feelings of panic are like an electric shock pulsing through the body. In times of panic, everyone feels this way. But what causes such a strong reaction?

Your whole being is primed to respond with fear. Your nervous system goes into high gear when it senses danger. The amygdala is the first brain region to respond to threatening stimuli, triggering the “fight or flight” mechanism. Without this reaction, the human race would have died out long ago.

The same brain circuits that kept our ancestors safe do the same for us. Although this is a significant psychological burden, one could argue that this is an evolutionary design flaw.

Part of it’s to do with staying alive and not wanting to put ourselves in danger. As we get older, another part of our brain develops whose main function is to find new ways to grow and improve existing systems.

This is why you feel uncomfortable and have no idea why. Your brain is constantly busy with two things at the same time: One is trying to protect you by scanning your environment for threats, while the other is busy making plans and focusing on work and social life.

Unfortunately, this archaic part of your brain isn’t very good at distinguishing between different forms of threat. Even something as mundane as honking your horn in a traffic jam can trigger a cascade of primal reactions, including fear and panic.

Your subconscious mind is the source of these fear reactions, which run before your conscious mind can intervene. You don’t have time to think or deliberate because your old brain circuits process information so quickly.

As time passes, your body physically responds to the fear. Many of the physiological responses to anxiety are readily apparent, including a surge of adrenaline that may be accompanied by symptoms such as trembling, sweating, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness or even nausea.

Interestingly, anxiety can also have a significant impact on your mind. Your IQ drops and your ability to make decisions and think critically deteriorates. In other words, anxiety makes you a little dumber.

When we’re afraid, we often reject anything or anyone that seems unfamiliar or strange. To ensure our own survival, we’ve become extremely cautious and defensive.

Needless to say, living in constant fear is unhealthy for both the individual and the community. For effective anxiety management, you need proven methods.

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Lesson 2: Utilize techniques like rationalization or mantras to prepare for frightening situations

Relax and take a deep sigh. Hold that sigh for four minutes as you free fall to the bottom of the sea. William Trubridge, a world champion free diver, accomplished this incredible feat. While diving in the Bahamas, he dove as deep as the Statue of Liberty, which is twice as tall.

Freediving takes a lot of courage. You’re more than 80 meters below the surface of the sea and you’re completely dependent on your own body and breath to survive. This test of mental strength must be passed with flying colors.

When Trubridge takes the plunge, however, he does so with confidence.

Such anxiety is a present problem. You experience intense stress in response to a real or imagined danger. You may have heart palpitations just before giving a presentation at work, or feel a sudden attack of anxiety when the plane hits severe turbulence.

However, you can prepare in advance with a number of strategies so that you can effectively manage these situations. Conscious exercise, such as deep breathing, guided imagery, or a mantra for self-affirmation, is one way. The author suggests using the phrase “gratitude for this opportunity” as a mantra.

By saying it out loud, you can begin to shift your focus from worry to hope and ambition. The alternative is to divert your attention from the source of anxiety. Sink into a good song or have a random conversation with a friend. It may only be a stopgap, but it’ll do for now.

Rationalization is one of the most effective methods. Eliminate your fears with cold, hard math and simple logic. That’s Trubridge’s plan: he knows the risks he’s taking, and he knows that his greatest fear isn’t pain or death, but failure. Mantras like “Nerves aren’t real” or “Now is everything” help him stay in the here and now and control his fear.

Preparation is key. Trubridge has learned to keep his cool in stressful situations. Just as anxiety training is a standard part of the program for professional athletes, it can be for you, too. Think of it as preparation for real life!

For example, if you suffer from a fear of flying, practice your calming techniques before your next flight. Decide on a mantra, practice deep breathing, or read up on flight safety. With a little preparation and practice, fear in dangerous situations can be managed.

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Lesson 3: Before we can deal with hidden fears, we must acknowledge them

As a human being, you cannot live your life without occasionally being afraid. However, some fears are unfounded and unreasonable. Sometimes these factors operate in secret and eat away at your well-being from within.

As a successful athlete, Jake hid his fear for a long time. For him, hiding his sexuality was all that mattered. It was a closely guarded secret that he was gay, and no one was ever allowed to get too close to him. To protect himself, he avoided close relationships with others. His girlfriend said he was moody and distant. Eventually, she ran away from him.

Later, Jake secretly dated a man, but his insecurity and worry eventually ended that relationship as well. His sense of disorientation and isolation increased.

One facet of you that you may be hiding is your sexual orientation. The effects of anxiety on one’s happiness and on relationships are well documented. However, you may be afraid of something else. Something as simple as fear of failure or feeling that your efforts will never be good enough could be to blame. Maybe you’re afraid of rejection because you’re jealous.

The first step to overcoming it’s to identify the cause of your fears. Jake’s aha moment came during therapy with the writer.

She challenged Jake to explain his fears by asking him to visualize them, and he did so by describing a wild grizzly bear standing guard. The conversation helped Jake understand that his fear of bears was an attempt to protect his vulnerable emotional core from harm.

Jake’s ability to recognize and address his fears paved the way to a deeper understanding of his emotions and the beginning of the process of letting them go. He told his parents he was gay and was surprised by their unconditional acceptance. Jake is now happier and more optimistic because he’s honest with himself and others.

Whether it’s fear of pain, rejection or failure, the first step is to recognize and name the fear. In truth, though, that’s just the beginning. A little more introspection is needed before moving on to the next phase.

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Lesson 4: Break free from your fears by changing your stories

Do you consider yourself unique among your friends? Or do your relatives see you as the outcast you are? People are constantly labeling themselves and making up narratives about their lives until those narratives start to feel true. If you keep telling yourself, “It’s not worth trying,” eventually you’ll start to believe it.

Our worries and fears are often triggered by these depressing narratives. Fortunately, there is a way out of this dilemma. A different narrative can help you achieve different things.

A healthy level of pessimism among the population of Nima, Ghana, is understandable. Violence, unemployment, and poverty are rampant in Nima, and the quality of housing and public facilities is poor. But even in the most difficult circumstances, a change in people’s thinking and outlook can go a long way.

AMIN NIMA, a new nonprofit organization, envisions a better future for the community. Simply by swapping the letters in the city’s name, the name is an invitation to Nima residents to change their pessimistic view of the city’s potential. Nima is home to a thriving community of artists and entrepreneurs, and its residents would do well to stop thinking of it as a slum.

Turn the tables on your own life to see how that works. And when it comes to the narratives you have been telling yourself for a long time, change is especially difficult. Your ego tends to cling to these stories, so they are often intertwined with how you see yourself.

It can help to ask yourself, “Who am I when I am afraid? How do I behave when I am? And how can I change my habits to make progress? Give an unfiltered and honest answer. At this point, you should begin to see how you can really change your life.

At the author’s workplace, she had a personal epiphany. After observing her own behavior, she realized that she dressed more conservatively when she worked in an office where there were more men than women. This, she later admitted, was an unconscious behavior; she avoided drawing attention to herself as a woman for fear of being dismissed as unqualified.

When she realized she was reacting out of fear, she changed her behavior. Now that she has made this decision, she consciously chooses to express herself through her appearance and demeanor.

After you figure out who you are, you should ask yourself, “What do I want?” It’s time to consider the impact of motivation.

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