It is Halloween this week, so I thought it appropriate to talk about fear. Fear can be a motivator—exciting and adrenaline producing, OR it can paralyze—stunting our growth and forward progress.
Real (authentic) fear has a clear source and motivates clear action. Think: A zombie jumps out from the bushes! You will act to protect yourself. You will freeze (play dead), flee (run!) or fight (attack the zombie.) These are instinctual survival responses. You won’t have to process any thought.
Fake (inauthentic) fear is a blanket anxiety or worry that paralyses instead of mobilizing. Think: The darkness, the haunting music, the general atmosphere of suspense while wading through the halls of a haunted house. (or going to grocery store!) It is not clear how you are to protect yourself, but you know to keep your guard up. The feeling of unease literally haunts you.
Unfortunately, we are currently plagued by this vague, haunted fear feeling. Living in this time of heightened uncertainty, our vague fear is constantly on alert. When our brains are perceiving any kind of threat, they are sending us into some form of fight, flight or paralysis.
So, what’s a fun-seeking, resourceful, but slightly scared human to do?
Exorcising Your Fear
Once it is established that you are not in mortal danger (no real-life zombies are attacking you), you can get on with the business of deconstructing the haunting anxiety of this now regular life.
1) Thoroughly Research Your Fear
What, if anything is threatening you?
On a much more subtle level; what don’t you want to know? Facing up to something in your situation that needs to change in order for you to move forward in your life can be very scary.
2) Feel the Fear
The only thing worse than fear is the damage suffered when you’re afraid to feel it. There is an initial reaction to whatever is scaring you, and then a resistance to feeling scared, which increases anxiety, which further increases resistance, and so on. Denial is hard work. If you can, get quiet, close your eyes. Feel the fear feeling. Locate it in your body. Place your hand there. Breathe air around the feeling. Ask it for information. What is it trying to tell you? What does it want you to do or not do? Thank it for protecting you. Breathe and allow it to pass through. Act on any information given.
3) Reduce the Threat as Best You Can
Do your research. Learn what the actual risks and threats are surrounding you and study ways to reduce them. It is understandable that you want to throw up your hands, quit and/or take no precautions at all, but please, don’t let anxiety prevent you from experiencing a safe, yet full life.
4) Look at Fear as a Message
Fear is the raw material from which courage is manufactured. As you move through life—which is a series of overcoming obstacles and expanding boundaries, you’ll notice that fear is never absent. Fear can be looked at as a message that something needs to change. We can look at it as scary or we can look at it as a mystery or challenge to be solved. Once you've researched as much as you can and have reduced the threat to your life as much as you can, there will come a time when, in order to expand, grow and change for the better, you must make a leap (even a small step is heroic!). Do it.
5) Talk About It
The very act of voicing our fear(s), more often than not, puts them in perspective and they become manageable. At the very least, once we've gotten the fear out of our imagination, we see that it is not as large and scary as we thought. Having a sounding board, someone to reflect back to you what you are believing, can shift your belief and change your situation.
6) The Serenity Prayer
Accept the things you cannot change. Find the courage (help, resources, tools) to change the things you can. And understand the difference. We cannot control the actions or beliefs of another person, as much as we’d like to. You do you and give those who threaten your safety a wide berth.
There’s a school of thought that says anxiety is excitement turned inside out. As you exorcise fear and anxiety that appears as scary, zombie-like shadows in your way, you will become stronger and more resourceful. Quite possibly your life will become extremely exciting