When Fear Rears an Ugly Head

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  As they embark on the new school year, most students are filled with conflicting emotions. Among them are anticipation, excitement, worry and dread. Perhaps the most pervasive feeling, however, is fear. Fear of new classes, new people, new expectations and new failures. I would go so far as to argue that this fear is the emotion that continues most throughout the year and paralyzes students the worst.

Everyone has been through this cycle before. It’s the pattern of fear and inaction that grips us at some point or another, and the consequences usually prove disastrous. Organic chemistry students are all too familiar with this. They have heard so much about this course that the tales of horror cloud their otherwise capable minds, and they are crippled by the image of this insurmountable demon. Therefore, they immerse themselves in a life of parties and television, taking care to avoid confronting the monster. Our minds play tricks so cruel on us that it’s hard to see the battle line and which side we are on.

The problem with avoidance is that it only compounds upon itself, and students refrain from confronting anything they fear is unpleasant. They do not perform well as a result, further amplifying their fear until the problem is monumental.

The most effective antidote to fear is reason. The heart of the dilemma is when emotion is left unchecked and reason is shown the back door. Don’t get me wrong. Fear is an important reflex with a physiological role to back it up. However, sometimes it reaches over where it doesn’t belong, and our behavior is inappropriately altered. The cure, then, is psychological. Life is essentially a series of events, which we interpret and to which we apply our own spin, our own emotional attachment of what that event or thing is supposed to mean. That spin is governed by our past experiences, vicarious journeys, developed attitudes and all other aspects of our personality that shape the way we think.

I may be so provocative as to say that everything is psychological. Surely, we cannot control every event. But, our interpretation and perspective is our own prerogative and solely our domain to change as we see fit. If the demon was created by our mind, then it must be possible to be defeated by our mind.

The thing with fear is that, more often than not, it can be resolved through the power of rational thinking and minimizing the perceived impact said fear has on our life. Like all 12-step groups promote, the first step is to accept the existence of this irrational fear. Do not try to deny that you are concerned and fretting over this matter. The next move is to question your erroneous manner of thinking and replace it with a healthy, more realistic outlook on life. Organic chemistry is not the end of the world, nor is any other class.

We often make the mistake of blowing our slightest preoccupations into colossal issues. Nothing is ever that big of a deal. Take your work seriously. Study regularly, and it will remove that indefinable quality that makes what you are avoiding so scary. You will see that things are not so bad, you will work more, you will succeed and you will repeat. Don’t buy into the hype—make your own decisions about what something is and should be. Let not doing perfect on your first test serve as an indication that you need to do something different next time, not that you are flunking out of school.

And, if something cannot be changed, rest easy and know the fate of the world does not rest on your shoulders alone. Such a mantra does not only apply to academics. It extends to talking to that guy or girl you have been eyeing. It even works for telling your parents the truth about what’s going on with you. This philosophy might even function in convincing yourself to get out and exercise.

The point is that everyone is scared. More often than not, we’re all scared of the same things: rejection, failure, mediocrity. The thing to keep in mind is that a little bit of each of those is inevitable. The good news is that a big part of them can be sidestepped by some calmness and dedication. Keep your head on and don’t let your mind mess with you. If you want it, go get it. You can have your cake and eat it too. Fear might seem a big fight to win, but regret is even harder and far more bitter.

Maryam Zia is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences