Nature has provided us with a sense of fear to be able to cope with the impending danger. Although fear is undoubtedly a useful emotion that has in many cases helped humanity to survive, nowadays it represents one of the main problems of self-development. How can we or our children deal with fear? Can it be prevented? Jan Mühlfeit and Katka Novotná are speaking out about fear slightly differently.
Chemistry of fear
The chemical processes in our head are still the same as a million years ago. In stress situations, hormones are being excreted which increases the overall availability of the organism. Especially the adrenaline, i.e. the stress hormone, and cortisol, which prepares us, for example, for fighting or escape. Human priority is survival, with which hormones help us, but at the expense of that, our immunity is weakened. People exposed to stress or fear for a long time are therefore often more susceptible to diseases.
In addition to internal chemical processes, stress also manifests itself on the external physical side. Part of the nervous system that supports stress is activated and prepares us for impending danger. Accelerated breathing often occurs during this reaction. Stress blocking the diaphragm cause that we are not able to breathe deeply and breathe just shallowly. Another sign is the increase in resting heart rate and the draining of blood from the brain to the limbs, so one is not capable of rational thinking. Although the processes that take place in our bodies during stressful situations have hardly changed in the last few millennia, the number of times we are exposed to stress has increased many times. Previously, people faced danger several times a month, and the felt fear was real. Today, in most cases, the fear is artificial, and our ego has taken over the defence mechanism, which is nothing but a ball of our fears. The success and the positive reality we experience are basically invisible for the amygdala (i.e. a component of the emotional part of the brain), in the case of negative sensations, the amygdala behaves like a zipper and sticks everything up.
Artificially created fears
When we are born, we do not know many forms of fear. Over time, however, fear begins to artificially develop in many forms through various influences. It is not the fear of survival, but rather the fears of our ego. Its forms are very different, for example, children are afraid of failure or “what if I get a bad evaluation?”, adults are afraid of a lack of financial security or of the judgment of others.
These fears are often transmitted from parent to child. So, we need to be careful not to pass on our own fears that we carry with us (even from our childhood). Although parents easily get the impression that they can protect their child in the best way, because they already have some experience and want their children to avoid making mistakes, it is rather counterproductive, because they are making up children’s fear artificially.
Nowadays, the fears of this artificial form prevail in society. We experience them on a daily basis. By not being able to discharge them by “fight” or by escape, stress is somatised into our body, which then manifests itself by various bodily deficiencies and diseases. Indeed, doctors tend to believe that 90% of our diseases are caused by stress.
There are various techniques to prevent fear or stress. One of the brains characteristics is the so-called neuroplasticity, which allows the brain to respond to various changing external sensations, but also to ways of thinking. The negative programs we have learned from childhood can be overwritten by new programs.
Fear can be easily illustrated on the timeline – past, present moment, future. The feeling of fear stems from something that has already happened (past) or from something that is yet to happen (the future). If we learn to be here and now in the present moment, fear cannot paralyze us. Try taking a deep breath and exhale. Were you worried about something? There was not even room for that. From this knowledge comes the strategy of how one can deal with fear.
Do not be afraid of making mistakes
Unfortunately, amygdala tends to stigmatize our mistakes. However, a mistake is a part of the performance as well as the result. To make our talent a strength, we need to put some effort into it. This investment can take various forms, such as acquiring certain knowledge, practice and skills. However, this process cannot be avoided by making mistakes. That enables us to learn how to do it differently and better next time. Therefore, it is necessary to learn not to be afraid of making a mistake.
“We can only lose if we give up. Everything else is a bridge to better results in the future. Whether it is good or bad, it is necessary to learn, to return to the present moment and to continue working,” says Jan Mühlfeit.
If we are in a well-managed situation, the amygdala “sleeps”. In the case of a negative experience, e.g. when we cannot calculate mathematical example, the amygdala “awakens” and begins to urge us. If it does not find a solution in our subconscious, then it alarms and makes the problem bigger than it really is. One is convinced that if they do not calculate this example, they do not count anything, let themself be carried away emotionally. In such moments, it is possible to exercise mental resilience, which consists of three components: body, breath and mind. To be able to use it properly and effectively, it is necessary to train it from childhood.
If the child stands straight and looks ahead as a winner, the growth hormone testosterone is excreted, and positive feelings prevail. On the other hand, the stance with hunched shoulders and gaze into the ground causes the secretion of cortisol, a stress hormone, which brings not only negative feelings but also worse results. This is also indicated by an experiment recently made at Stanford University. Ten minutes before the exam, they divided the 20-member group into two halves. One half took the “victorious” attitude, the other stood with the rounded shoulders. You can guess which group of students had 30% better results.
However, it is not only about attitude. Another means that can break the negative sequence of fear and stress is deep breathing. Equally important is the internal monologue, which is what one thinks about themself and how they think about themself. This is closely linked to feedback, whose correct prehension is the key. It can be divided into three phases.
The sandwich feedback
At the beginning of the evaluation, the child should be praised, no matter how well or bad they did. That will lead to serotonin exclusion, a chemical of happiness, and the child is much better prepared for the corrective feedback that comes in the second phase. In the corrective feedback, however, one rule must be respected – to separate the child from the activity. “You’ll never learn,” or “you’re not capable” will cause the child to take it personally, the amygdala will take over and convince the child that they are incapable and cannot do anything well. If we change the assessment and say that the numerical example must be counted in another way, the emotional part of the brain does not take it personally and the person is open to feedback.
The essence of the third phase is the expression of support and trust for the child in the future. At that point, oxytocin, a hormone of trust or love, is formed, and if we touch or hug the child, it will support the process.
It is necessary to think very well about what words we are using in communication with our children. Feedback can be tough, but it must be both balanced and growing. If parents take the right attitude to the child and show them their confidence and support in the first league, in the event of misconduct and fall into the second league, it will not be difficult for the child to get back. If a child is mentally trained only for the division, they end up in the district championship.
Our barriers begin where our dreams end. And children often dream more often than adults. The creativity of a six-year-old child is close to 100%, but twenty years old individual often does not even reach the decimal point. Various rules adopted, which are undoubtedly necessary for the functioning of today’s world, are a part of this, but most of it bears guilt. Let’s work through the combination of your body, breath and way of thinking to work with fear properly.
Unlock children’s potential
If you want to learn more about the topic, please sign up for practical workshops led by Jan Mühlfeit and Katka Novotná. You can help your children not only work with fear and stress but also discover their talents and prepare them for future life. As part of the Unlock Children’s/ Student’s potential, with the latest knowledge of positive psychology parents learn how to effectively lead children so that they can not only be successful but also happy in their lives. The successful courses for children, students and parents are based on the best-selling book Unlock Children’s Potential (Albatros 2018) by Jan Mühlfeit and Kateřina Novotná. Given the great interest in these workshops, there is now also an online course for parents, teachers, or trainers who are actively working with children (odemykanidetskehopotencialu.cz).
By Jan Mühlfeit,
Global Strategist, Coach and Mentor,
former Microsoft Chairman for Europe