Taylor Clark, Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)
Taylor Clark’s new book Nerve is an interesting, fun-to-read and scientifically-supported examination of what causes people to feel apprehension, anxiety, fear and terror and explains how they can successfully manage these emotions. His subject is of particular interest to targets and victims of online hostility, who often find themselves blindsided by attacks they feel ill-equipped to deal with.
Clark succinctly explains the difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is “a cognitive phenomenon [whose] purpose is to protect you from potential dangers that might pop up in the future,” while fear “is the physical feeling you get when there’s something dangerous in front of you right now, and its simple job is to get you to safety.”
He points out that “fear is a fact of life. All we can do is learn how to be afraid in the right way,” and provides a dozen suggestions to get people started:
(1) Breathe: “By consciously controlling our breath, we can inform our parasympathetic nervous system that things are ok, lowering our heart rate and taking fear down a notch.”
(2) Put your feelings into words: “Talking or writing about an emotion like fear helps the brain process it behind the scenes; it allows the mind to [sort out] thoughts and feelings instead of just churning them over repeatedly.”
(3) Train, practice, and prepare: “Training is the only reliable way to ensure success; though repetition and experience, you program yourself to do the right thing automatically.”
(4) Redirect your focus: “The culprit is cases of meltdown under pressure isn’t fear but misdirected focus: we turn out attention inward and grow preoccupied with worries about results, which undercuts our true abilities. [Instead] concentrate on the present moment and on the task at hand.”
(5) Mindfully disentangle from worries and anxious thoughts: Either “learn to simply watch your worries and let them coast without getting entangled with them” or “postpone worry” to a more appropriate time.
(6) Expose yourself to your fears: “If you want to give your amygdala [the part of the brain that registers fear] a chance to get over a fear, you must expose yourself to the things and ideas that scare you,” thus getting “in the habit of moving towards your fears rather than running away.”
(7) Learn to accept uncertainty and lack of control: “With enough exposure, the [frightening] idea loses its power and becomes almost dull.”
(8) Reframe the situation: “Reframing things with a more optimistic and realistic spin let’s us keep our fears in the right perspective.”
(9) Joke around: “Thinking playfully or joking in a stressful situation helps us break out of a negative point of view and see things differently.”
(10) Build faith in yourself: “Developing confidence that you can handle intense fear and stressful predicaments is absolutely vital. Confidence transforms dangerous-seeming threats into challenges we can overcome, it gives us a sense of control over our fate, and it keeps us plugging away at problems until we find a solution instead of just giving up.”
(11) Keep your eyes on a guiding principle: “Dedication to a higher principle – be it spiritual belief, altruism, or personal goals and principles – keeps us afloat and pointed on the right direction when everything appears scary and hopeless.”
(12) Open up to fear unconditionally: “There’s nothing wrong with feeling anxious, ever, over anything at all. Fear and anxiety are a part of who we are….Instead of battling fear, we just let it happen, and when the fight against it dissolves, so does the torment.”