Managing Fear Through Mindfulness: Expert Offers 5 Tips for Success

When it comes to getting the things that we want and doing the things that we need to do, fear can often get in the way. Even to the point of paralyzing us to where we don’t know what to do at all. Thankfully, there is a way of overcoming fear, and it’s through mindfulness.

Gail Gazelle MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, master certified coach for physicians, and author of the new book, “Mindful MD: 6 Ways Mindfulness Restores Your Autonomy and Cures Healthcare Burnout,” provides her top five tips on how to manage fear through mindfulness.

Tip #1: Recognize that we all experience fear and that it is part of our shared humanity

When we’re experiencing fear, our brain goes into survival mode and we feel isolated and alone. But we are not alone. Everyone experiences fear, not just us. Remembering that can move us from that painful sense of isolation into a more expansive sense that we are all in this together.

Tip #2: Fear is generated in a part of the brain that responds to threats in the environment

Oftentimes, our brain interprets difficulties in our lives as a threat and “pushes the buttons” of our brain’s fear and defense system. We can find our heart beating fast, our breathing becoming shallow, our face flushing. With mindful awareness, we can remind ourselves that our fear alert system has been activated. Simply doing so, begins a process of reversing this activation.

Tip #3: When fear is present, take a moment to say to yourself “Fear is here”

When our primitive brain is activated, we can be swept away by uncomfortable emotions and physical sensations. Saying something as simple as “fear is here” or “I’m experiencing fear” brings our prefrontal cortex online. It’s like pressing the brakes instead of the gas.

Tip #4: One of the best antidotes to fear is compassion.

It can be helpful to think about how many children have a nighttime fear of “the bogeyman in the closet.” When we imagine this, we typically find ourselves wanting to comfort and reassure the child. In many ways, it is exactly the same for us as adults as we also need comfort. In times of fear, we can bring ourselves that comfort by being kind and gentle with ourselves.

Tip #5: Mindfulness can help us manage times of fear.

Oftentimes, our fear stems from imagining something bad that has not actually occurred. Our mind gets stuck in an imagined future that may never actually occur. Mindfulness helps us return to the present, where we are 99% likely to be safe and not in harm's way. It helps ground us in the here and now, away from the catastrophic place our minds can so often take us to.

In her new upcoming book, Gazelle explores the topics of the roots and causes of burnout, reducing reactivity to outside stressors and how to cultivate upwards spirals in the lives of not only medical professionals, but everyone who finds themselves struggling with burnout and imposter syndrome.

Don't miss Gail Gazelle's insights on mindfulness and burnout in the inaugural issue of the Healthcare Rest Stop Quarterly, now available HERE.