MSS #057: Taming Your Fears with a Simple Name

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MSS #057: Taming Your Fears with a Simple Name

10 Feb 24

MSS #057: Taming Your Fears with a Simple Name 

10 Feb, 2024

Read time: 3.2 minutes

In a hurry? Cut straight to the heading The Importance of Labelling - reduced read time 1.7 minutes

This week, we're not only exploring how naming our fears can reshape our brain's response, but we're also delving into the science behind this fascinating phenomenon.

Understanding the neuroscience can empower you to use this technique more effectively.

Let's explore this transformative strategy in detail. 👇

The Science Behind the Fear Response:

Before we dive into the strategies, let's understand the science.

Our fear response is rooted deep in our brain's architecture, primarily in the amygdala. This ancient part of our brain processes emotional reactions, including fear, and operates on a faster, more instinctive level than our rational thought processes.

The Fast-Acting Fear System:

When we encounter something that triggers fear, the amygdala activates immediately, often seizing control before our more rational, pragmatic brain regions can respond.

This reaction is a survival mechanism, designed to protect us from immediate threats.

In the modern world, thankfully most of us do not encounter many physical threats (my sympathies to those that sadly do). Our brains are so highly tuned to keep us safe, that perceived threats to our safety also triggers the same old fear system.

The Role of Comfort and Familiarity: 

For the amygdala to 'stand down' and allow the rational part of the brain to take over, it needs to be assured that there's no immediate threat.

This is where naming our fears comes in.

By assigning a familiar or non-threatening name to our fears, we signal to the amygdala that the perceived threat is manageable and it can relax its heightened state of alert.

This is often thought of as labelling. Labelling something we historically saw as a threat, “reclassifies” it as a non-threat.


How Naming Fears Engages the Brain:

Here’s a bit more about our brain’s response to fear.

- Engaging the Pre-frontal Cortex: Naming a fear not only calms the amygdala but also actively engages the pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for logical thinking and reasoning.

This shift allows us to process the fear more rationally and less emotionally.

- Creating a Psychological Shift: By transforming a fear from an abstract, overwhelming emotion to a named, familiar entity, we alter our brain's perception, making the fear feel less daunting and more like a normal part of life.


The importance of labelling

Our brains are hardwired to categorise and label experiences for quicker decision-making.

This evolutionary trait helps us navigate the world efficiently by rapidly assigning meaning to stimuli based on past experiences.

When encountering something new, the brain swiftly sifts through its repository of labels and past experiences to decide how to react. This process is particularly evident in how we handle fear.

Fearful experiences, once labelled as threats, are stored in our memory, prompting quick, unconscious reactions when similar situations arise in the future.

This automatic response can be recalibrated. By consciously redesignating an old fear with a new, non-threatening label, we can reframe our perception of it.

For instance, if you've always been apprehensive about public speaking, renaming this fear with a friendly, even humorous moniker can alter your brain's association with it.

This deliberate act of relabeling disrupts the automatic fear response and encourages the brain to process the experience afresh, often leading to a more rational and less emotionally charged response.

Over time, this practice can significantly diminish the intensity of the fear, transforming it from a paralyzing force into a manageable challenge.


Practical applications

You can use the labelling approach with a name, for anything that causes any level of fear or anxiety.

This might be things like,

  • Exam stress

  • Fear of public speaking

  • Networking or social occasions

  • Fear of using an escalator or lift

  • Nervous about a regular meeting

  • Someone you feel intimidated in front of

The applications are endless.

Naming your fear

Choose a name that has relevance to you, something that is non-threatening, that you perceive as being harmless or neutral.

It can work really well if you choose something that is maybe humorous or fun.

Another approach is to use a name or label, that already has an association for you that is harmless and fun.

It might be the name of a,

  • Pet

  • Funny friend

  • Name that is fun

  • Fictional character

  • Name you find funny

  • Word that amuses you

That’s it really

Dry run

Going forwards, do this.

1. Be aware – of something that bothers you and creates an unwanted response from you.

2. Give it a name – give this “trigger” a name. Trigger = situation, person, event, feeling of anxiety etc.

3. Use its name – when you notice the familiar response kick in, repeat its new name in your head.

4. Keep doing this – so you establish the habit and a new neural pathway response in your mind.

Have fun with this.

Do not mistake its simplicity for thinking its not powerful, it is.

Use your brain’s architecture to support you.

Ready to change your relationship with fear? Implement these strategies to start transforming your fears into manageable aspects of your life.



Quick recap:

  • Fear response science – fear system is faster than rational thinking.

  • Importance of labelling – uses brain’s fast systems to redesignate a specific fear as “safe”.

  • Practical applications – any nonlife threatening fear or anxious moments.

  • Naming a fear – nonthreatening, humorous, fun name.

  • Dry run – notice the fear trigger, give it a name, keep using the name.

See you next week. If you haven't already, follow me on LinkedIn and hit the bell for daily posts on tips, insights and techniques.

Want more? 

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1. My book - Nuclear Powered Resilience

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Lets have an open chat and explore how I can help you and what is troubling you.

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That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, really hope this helped. Contact me if you think I can help you further at [email protected].

Happy thinking.