Dealing with your fears: Are they holding you back or driving you forward?
Fear is one of the main human emotions. It has been present since centuries when our ancestors were facing eminent dangers while fighting for their survival.
In today’s world, it is no longer about running from wild beasts, hunting to feed our loved ones or protect our scarce belongings from scary pillagers. There are still situations though that felt threatening to our safety and wellbeing. Often uncertainty, the feeling of the unknown, drives our fears. Some of us feel paralyzed, reliving over and over again the fearful picture we vividly painted in our heads. Some of us push the fear down as much as possible hoping it eventually goes away. Yet some among us face fear even when feeling afraid.
As long as we let our life be ruled by fear, we will always have an excuse. I’d have been rejected from that promotion anyway. My heart would have been broken. I’m sure they would say no even if I have asked.
Where does the difference lie? Are those who face their fears braver or wiser? Or they just do not feel fear in the same threatening way? I do not have the answer to this question, at least not yet. What I do believe is that if we keep letting fear command our decisions, we will surely miss out a lot in life.
Every time we overcome our fears – regardless of how small they are – we feel stronger and more confident. Perhaps it gets sometimes scary and painful, most of the times though it is not as frightening as we thought it would be. We learn from our fears, we grow into a more resilient version of ourselves. Therefore, this week I share with you 5 strategies to help you go through your fears. Strategies you can resort to time and time again, until you realize that feeling afraid and still go through it is way more worth it than living afraid your whole life and never do it.
1. Focus on your breath: In a situation of perceived fear, it is not only our brains but also our bodies that signal us. So, it is quite normal that your heart rate increases, you start sweating and even feeling shortness of breath. Focusing on your breathing may sound paradoxical, but it is about regaining control. While you are deep breathing, make sure your exhales are longer than your inhales. This helps the body to physically calm itself down. A useful technique to learn how to focus on your breath is through the practice of meditation. If meditation is not your cup of tea, you can also practice mindfulness. Bring your attention to the present moment in those situations where you feel fear. Observe your thoughts and body sensations, sit with them without judgement. Just accept these fearful feelings as they come, trying not to respond immediately.
2. Name the fear: When triggered by fear, we often feel trapped by our thoughts, which have their own way to keep circling and spiraling. What if you were to name that fear? You can say it aloud or perhaps write it down. Even though fear is a common emotion, each of us experience it differently. For some it can be fear of failure, while for others fear of success. For you it can be fear of rejection, whereas for someone else fear of appraisal. It may be something concrete such as fear of heights or riding an elevator. Naming your fear(s) compels you to face it, instead of ignoring it. Avoiding your fears pretending they do not exist, will not make them go away, it just makes them stronger and eventually they grow out of proportion.
3. Identify your triggers: Were you ever caught off guard by your fears? Identifying what you are afraid of and what triggers your fears enables you to deal with them from a place of awareness. Think about the last time you felt afraid: Where were you? What were you doing? Who was there? What was happening? It may be that certain objects, scenarios or people are one of the triggers for your fears. It can also be how you perceive future events due to negative past experiences or how you paint the picture in your head. Knowing your fear-triggers gives you the opportunity to recognize similar situations in the future and be better prepared to face whatever makes you feel afraid.
4. Visualize success: Oh, I do not want to jinx it. Our superstitions or limiting-beliefs sometimes prevent us from imagining the best-case scenario. More than imagining it, it is about living it internally before it happens. Think of it like this: Imagine you are entering a competition or have an exam coming up, do you wait until last minute to practice your sports skills or deep dive into your studies? You may still feel anxious when the day arrives, though you are certainly ready no matter what happens. The same with facing your fears. You do not have to be a big fan of visualization to go through it. Mental mapping is about strengthening the connections in your brain that communicate with your body and mind to create a vision of success. A visualization that depicts you conquering your fears feeds your brain – and you! – with strength and power. So, go ahead and picture what success looks like when you are conquering your fears.
5. Face your fears in small steps: If you have ever practiced for a marathon, you know that you do not start with 40 km in your first run. Or when you learn a new language you do not wake up one day completely proficient. Drawing a parallel with facing your fears, you do not have to pick your worst fear and go face it tomorrow (or you can – completely up to you!). You can allow yourself to start slowly. Perhaps by making a list of all your fears and evaluating them in terms of intensity. Afterwards, you pick one of your fears to start with (maybe not the top down one, but one in the middle) and put yourself in the situation where you have to face it. If you feel the need to play the worst-case scenario, go ahead and do it. Rarely the black and scary picture we paint is the one that happens – we have a vivid imagination! And even if it does happen, it is not an excuse to stop trying. Conquering your fears is a work in progress, therefore do it step-by-step if needed. What matters is that you keep doing it, keep going through your fears.
Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”.
It is not about eradicating fear or ignore the alert signs, but rather go through it even if you are afraid. For conquering fear does not mean you are not afraid. You can learn a lot about yours fears through self-reflection and self-discovery. Do not get mistaken though. Only when facing your fears you get to set yourself free from what is holding you back. And if being fully in charge of your life and your decisions is not freedom, than I do not know what is!