Feeling fear as the lump in the back of your throat; the white knuckles inching up on the steering wheel; the racing heartbeat that signifies the all-out panic attack to come. Or perhaps, the sweat dripping down the sides of your face momentarily blinding you as it swells and stings your eyes. None of these are pleasant things to experience- a BIG reason why we naturally play defense and avoid opportunities that may reintroduce us to our biggest fears. But what if I told you we all hold subconscious fears that manipulate our daily emotions, operations, and interactions as well?
Yup, we all have them – some we create from past traumas, or from irrational suggestions, while others are ingrained in us after being projected onto us for years by people that matter most. So how do we work through the hold they have on our minds, bodies, and hearts? First, by identifying them- both the obvious fears we’re VERY aware of and the not-so-obvious ones that we unearth through time.
#1 Name your Fear
One of the best ways to name your fears is to start by writing out the ones you are already well aware of to get your mind flowing in the right direction. As you jot your list down, consider when and where you were when they formed… these are called impact moments. Throughout our lives, we all absorb both information and misinformation that creates so much of what we accept as fact. For example, say you are like me and are afraid of heights. Can you recall when that fear started? Where you were or who you were with? Is there a storyline behind it? Perhaps seeing a loved one in the hospital from a great fall? These little details turn into novels of reality in our brains, settling in as impact moments. Though sometimes grueling to remember, reconnecting to the why’s behind your fear is a huge step in understanding ourselves better.
When you find yourself running out of the low-hanging fruit, switch gears into thinking about some of your biggest dreams.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do, achieve, become but haven’t achieved yet?
What is holding you back?
This list will take time and your dedicated attention, so celebrate your hard work when you feel like you’ve exhausted all of your emotional resources to finish it (for now).
Our fears are ever-present and can adapt as we move into new circumstances, so feel free to repeat this step whenever you feel necessary.
#2 Think About it Differently
Now you know the dark threads that have been weaving themselves in and out of your life, you can move them into the more rational side of your brain. Fear is very tricky to let go of, but there are techniques that can help. Let’s talk about some of them.
Let’s look through your list and rate them on a scale of 1-10 on how likely or realistic they are to actually come to fruition. As humans, numbers and statistics help us recognize risk and chance while rebalancing the emotions we have around those two words. I’ll tell you one thing, if I rate my fear of heights as a 7, meaning highly likely to carry a dangerous risk, you can bet my shaking legs I won’t be skydiving or jumping off cliffs anytime soon. Unless my life depends on it. But I enjoy hiking and exploring nature. Several times I had pushed past my fear, one shaky step at a time, in order to get down the mountain to safer ground.
Now, look at your list and circle all the fears with a 6 or higher. Are there any that are similar? What could happen to you if you experienced these fears?
To every action, there’s a reaction… We can actually survive and thrive through a whole lot more than we think we can. We are innately strong and resilient beings! Now, what would it look like if you knew this to be true, “I can handle it”? For me, the idea reduces pressure on my lungs and I feel like I can breathe better. I can make better choices in my life. And, I feel more in balance with myself, when I believe I can handle it. BONUS – I stop worrying about the possibilities of it happening. This frees up so much mental thinking and body stress.
Are you ready to tackle a fear that is impacting your life right now?
#3 Baby Steps Forward and Breathe
So great, now that you’ve named your fear and you want to get to a place where you believe “I can handle it” is possible. You know it’s time to create a plan; some small actions to tackle one fear at a time. This will help you take back some of your power from them. Let’s take my fear of heights again. I didn’t decide to climb the tallest mountain in the US. No, I started by downloading the app AllTrails so I can learn about the path I’m about to partake in. I started by walking Minnesota trails, then moved on to South Dakota, then North Carolina, Flag Staff/Sedona, Seattle, then finally I was ready to tackle the Rockies. To prepare, I found great hiking shoes and sticks that supported my wobbly legs. I wore loose clothing so I felt like I could move. By the end, I wasn’t using a stick on the easy hikes and was tackling moderate trails and even comfortable wearing the backpack in the snow. It took me 4 years to get to this point where I trusted myself and no more wobbly legs.
But how do you respond when you’re stuck in a scared shitless storm?
Breathe… the amazing effect breath-work has on our body and mind is scientifically mind-blowing! One of my go-to’s is to breathe in for four, hold for four, and release for six. After doing that a few times, I feel like I can think clearer before I react. By putting a pause to your reaction allows the body to loosen tension and your mind a chance to allow you to do something different. Before I know it, I am back in the driver’s seat.
Go at your pace, don’t let others or yourself pressure you into action before you’re ready. And if you feel like others are pushing you too fast, state it. Say it out loud; most people will respect you more for setting that boundary. But most importantly, you will respect yourself more for it!