Fear in the Way of Your Decision-Making? How to Move Forward
Is fear in the way of your decision-making? Fear is, after all, the ultimate four-letter word -- more heinous than the other one beginning with the same letter. Fear, and its close cousin anxiety, can stop us in our tracks by getting in the way of decision-making. When fear and anxiety paralyze us by preventing us from making decisions, it can interfere in the quality of our lives. Good thing it's possible to break through fear's barriers, make decisions, and move forward.
Why Fear Gets in the Way of Decision-Making
Fear is a basic human instinct. We're wired with the ability react when we perceive danger; brain structures such as the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus kick into high gear when fear is present, sending signals to each other and throughout the brain in order to spur us into action and make ourselves safe (Anxiety: It's in Your Head [Your Brain]).
Fear becomes unhealthy and debilitating when it becomes over-reactive. Sometimes, fear seeps into other areas of the brain, like the frontal lobe; when that happens, fear gets in the way of decision-making and can lead to anxiety disorders. (Fear and the Brain, an Introduction).
The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for such higher-order functioning as logical thought, reasoning, and decision-making. When the frontal lobe becomes involved in the fear response, fear becomes more than a protective reaction to danger and expands into anxiety, adding complex thoughts and emotions to a basic human instinct.
You can use this to your advantage: your higher-order-thinking frontal cortex got you into this advanced fear, and it can, therefore, get you out of it. You can prevent fear from getting in the way of decision-making and move forward.
How to Move Forward When Fear Gets in the Way of Decision-Making
How can we possibly move forward at all, let alone make tough choices and big decisions, when fear and anxiety convince us that decision-making will lead to disaster?
Separate Rumor from Reality
Fear places us on hyper-alert. That makes us watch closely, listen carefully, and sense thoroughly. We take in too much information, and our brain tries to process it. However, we're taking things in through a lens of fear, so we don't interpret things at face value.
For example, perhaps you've heard rumors of break-ins in your area. People are saying that no home is safe, that "everyone" is being violated, that the police haven't caught the person, and that law enforcement can do nothing to keep people safe. That, legitimately, can be frightening. Fear can do it's job by springing us into action: making sure doors and windows are locked, keeping valuables out of sight, and turning outside and some inside lights on. However, when fear takes over and partners with anxiety, it can shut us down. We can't think. We don't know what to do, and we can't make decisions to keep ourselves safe (Worry: How Much is Too Much?).
Stepping back from the situation, examining the facts you know and weeding out the exaggerated rumors will help keep fear in its proper place: in the lower brain structures that lead to positive action.
Keep It Simple
When fear and anxiety take over our thoughts and emotions, our behavior is affected. We either can't act at all, or we overreact in ways that are ineffective in addressing the source of our fear. When "what-ifs" and doubts overshadow our thinking, we're often crippled, unable to engage in healthy decision-making. Also, fear tends to cause us to catastrophize, exaggerating everything and imagining the very worst multiplied by infinity.
A way to reduce fear and anxiety is to keep things simple. Keeping it simple involves paying attention to only those things that are relevant and that you can control. If you catastrophize the break-in situation, it can quickly become easy for you to feel helpless. After all, how can you possibly stop this robber from terrorizing the neighborhood, the entire town? But when you focus on what you can control, your own home and family, you can make rational decisions that will keep you safe.
Fear is meant to help us decide how to take action and be safe. When it takes over our thoughts and pairs with anxiety, though, it actually prevents healthy decision-making. Separating rumor from reality and keeping things simple are ways to break through fear for positive decision-making.
Peterson, T. (2016, May 19). Fear in the Way of Your Decision-Making? How to Move Forward, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/05/fear-in-the-way-of-your-decision-making-how-to-move-forward
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Anxiety has struck me down like a lightning bolt. I didn't know if left was right, or if right was right. I have learned to calm down. 'Take it easy'. Go slow. When I rush, I'm in trouble. Thanks for article...