A Curious, Science Based Technique to Curb Your Fear

A Curious, Science Based Technique to Curb Your Fear

Fear has been a recurrent theme in a few of my writings. While I’m wondering why that might be, I realize it might be because I’m an expert in fear. Like I said in my first soloblog, life in itself contains fear provoking situations, or maybe even consists of fearful ie. stressful periods. Approaching that guy/girl, getting your first job, speaking your mind (don’t underestimate this one, I see it everyday in the lecture halls), having that relationship after you’ve approached that guy/girl, putting something personal online.

These are absolutely, one by one, all situations that did provoke a sense of fear in me. Some more than the other, but they did. And sometimes still do. So, why the f… do I do all these things? Like blogging, having (had) a business, being sure to want to build a new business, start my academic life over without the security I will make it, or be any good at it?! (Paraphrased my dad with this last one here…)

I’ve had a lot worries in my life, most of which never came true ~ Mark Twain


A part of it can definitely be called exposure therapy. What good is a life that is controlled by fear? Fear leads to stress and stress is killing to your health and Quality of Life (QoL). KILLING! (literally). Conquering fear by exposing yourself to it, by definition, is an improvement to your health and QoL to say the least, tell ‘em I told you that.

The other part is because of a technique I applied by accident. It’s somewhat embarrassing, to be honest… Almost everyone who knows me, will tell you I’m a very outgoing, maybe even an extraverted guy (although I’m an ambivert). But in the past, in certain social situations, when a kind of burning feeling in my chest arose, it kind of frightened me and I toned my participation to the conversation down a notch. Actually it was just happiness that came up while we were talking! I know, weird right??

I only discovered this after rationally examining the very situations, because it bothered the hell out of me. It robbed me of pure moments of joy actually. So I decided to interpret that feeling as excitement and joy, in stead of stress and fear. What a difference that made, if only for me. Everyone reading this has had moments of fear and moments of excitement. Now imagine them both seperately in social situations. And now compare them. Yep…

Where the science comes in

The cool thing about this technique, is that it is actually based in science, as I found out at University. There are two concepts that are worth discussing here.


The first one is about a research that has been conducted in the seventies . The scientists (Dutton & Aron, 1974) had a woman standing in the middle of an immensely high, creeking and cracking, wobbly, anxiety provoking suspension bridge, having the men who crossed the bridge fill out a questionnaire. After the last question, the men got to see a picture of a woman with her hands in front of her face. The men had to make up a story about what they saw.

Because in science a control group is always needed, to compare and verify, the researchers did the same routine at a steady bridge only a few meters high. Both groups (high and low bridge) got the questionnaire woman’s number after they completed their tasks, “in case they would’ve wanted an explanation about the study afterwards”. The real reason though, was to measure the response rate.

The result was that only 12.5% of the ‘small bridge guys’ called, whereas 50% of the ‘suspension bridge guys’ called back. And besides that, the narrative about the woman on the picture was twice as much sexually suggestive with the men on the suspension bridge, than with the men on the baby bridge!!

Now! What does this tell us? The men on the high bridge, must’ve been physiologically aroused. Understandably more so than the men on the low, steady bridge. The conclusion is that they attributed that arousal to the woman they met on the bridge, instead of to their fear, and because of that made more callbacks and created more dirty stories about the woman on the picture (the pigs!).

So what, dude?! What’s in it for me?!

Well… The conclusion for us, is that we as humans believe we always know what is going on with our bodies and our emotions. But we don’t! Even if we think we do, we can be wrong.

This guys’ still not making sense to me…

Alright… Now watch this phenomenom being transformed and being used to our advantage.

Missatribution of Fear
Also Einstein gets Misattributed


General practicioners (GP’s) often, VERY often, get patients with symptoms they can’t ascribe to a certain physiological cause. Backpain for example. Only 10% of the time someone comes with a complaint like this, it is specific. The other 90% are categorized under Medically Unspecified Symptoms, short: MUS.

In a lot of cases, these complaints can be explained by psychological factors. Pain, after all, is a subjective symptom. In other words, when Michel starts whining after a nipple twist, doesn’t mean I have to whine as well after the same nipple twist done to me. (Because I’m way cooler, of course)

Nowadays more and more GP’s in the Netherlands and Belgium work together with psychologists in their practice. And a technique both GP’s and psychologists use for MUS patients is reattribution. The aim is to let patients link the physiological symptoms to a psychological cause. Result? A reduction in MUS’es and an improvement in functioning for the patients. Intruiging, eye-opening, and awesome!!! I love my field!

So this should’ve been a substantiation of that tribute-thing-story..?”

Now curb it…

Well, yes! This namely means, that you can curb physiological symptoms, which emotions sometimes are! Like I did with my social awkward feeling I had! Or when I have to present a show and speak in public. In my examples, excitement and fear are two very similar physiological concepts, so they can be interchanged pretty easily. That of course is not always the case, as every situation is different. Sometimes it will need a bit more effort to apply this technique.

But it makes a world of difference and it’s worth it. And sometimes you don’t even need extensive training or whatever to do that. Only awareness about a feeling you would want to curb, or reattribute. Then decide to which feeling you want to curb it, and test it!

As always. Start small, make incremental steps, one situation at a time. And don’t worry about fooling yourself. We’re doing that a lot more than you would like to.

How we do that, I’ll tell you in two weeks.

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