How to face fear – when you’re not feeling brave

posted in: Everyday Spirit | 2

Running scared? Me too! I took on a challenge and now that it seems it might actually happen – you guessed it – I’m scared. Turning around and running the other way seems like a pretty good option right about now.

As survival options go, avoidance is not a bad one, and I’ve perfected it pretty well. Sometimes getting out of a situation is a great choice, especially if our physical safety is at risk. But what if we are running away from outcomes that we really want, simply because we are too scared to do what it takes to get there? Staying in our comfort zone is – well, comfortable – but what are we missing out on because we are too scared to take a risk?

I thought about my challenge (starting a new business), and how I’ll feel if I back out now and don’t give it a go. I know I’ll be disappointed, and always wondering if it might have worked. So, as the saying goes, I”ve decided to “face the fear and do it anyway”. But how? What can I do so that I can move through the fear? And how can I do so in as painless and comfortable way as possible?

Here’s four ways that are helping me right now:

1/ Exploring the fear.

Being scared is uncomfortable – we don’t want to go there. So we push fear away, and in the process it becomes like the Wizard of Oz –  big, shapeless, and terrifying. We don’t even want to poke it’s edges in case we wake it up, so we leave it to grow bigger and bigger. But we have no idea of what it’s really like, and what it’s made of.

Imagine you are inviting fear in for a cup of tea. But tell it to mind its manners! Ask it some questions. What is it trying to protect you from? Fear is always trying to keep us safe from something – that’s it’s job. Is it trying to keep you from failure, or from feeling foolish or embarrassed or humiliated? Is it trying to save you from the pain of rejection or disappointed hopes? Probe a little deeper. Ask it what it is worried might happen to you if what you fear comes to pass?

Try and get a sense of what the fear is like. Is it heavy and dense, or big and generalized? Where can you feel it in your body? Maybe it makes your jaws clench, of feels like a stone in your stomach, or a tight band around your lungs. Does it make your heart race, or your head ache? If you like, get out crayons and paper, and draw it. Look at it from all angles and see what you notice about it.

Be curious, try and sit with it until it reveals something of itself to you.

2/ Reframing the thinking

Fear is the emotion – and it’s okay. Emotions come and they go, and they tell us something useful about what’s going on. But the stories we tell ourselves about those emotions – well, they’re another matter. We just keep adding to them, and reinforcing them with more and more thoughts until we think they are facts. And then we only operate from within their framework.

Try writing down all the thoughts you have about what’s scaring you. When they are out of your head and down on paper, it’s easier to look at them more objectively. What thoughts might not actually be true in this situation? What thoughts could be tweaked or replaced with a different, more helpful thought?

This year, I’m trying to replace some of my more fearful thoughts with “I wonder what would happen if….?”. Instead of being scared about something, and thinking “this has to work or else”, I’m finding this thought lets me be more open and curious about the outcome. I can give it a go and see what happens, without telling myself that my sense of worth depends on the project’s success.

3/ Building a framework of support

How can I make sure I’m well supported? What do I need to make me feel safe? Heading out alone and unsupported is not brave – that’s just silly. For me, being supported means having the right people behind me – or alongside me. People that will encourage and support me, cheer me on, and pick me up when it all goes horribly wrong! (No, I did not just say that last bit – that was the fear speaking!!).

I can support myself in important ways as well. One way is to make sure I’m really well prepared, to have a back-up plan and things written down. I know I can freeze up and my mind goes blank when I’m nervous, so it helps if I know I can pull out my notes if I have to.

Another way I can support myself is by doing things that I know make me feel good. Simple things work for me – spending time in nature, getting a good night’s sleep, being with family, getting in touch with who I am and what matters to me. Having a stronger sense of self and feeling more grounded gives me the courage to take more risks.

4/ Taking small steps

When I look at the final goal it can look daunting and too far out of reach. If I wonder whether I can do it, my answer is likely to be “No way!” Taking baby steps is the way to go. I ask “what small step am I brave enough to do right now?” And then I do it. Bit by bit, I keep moving in the right direction. (You might also like to check out “Getting from “I can’t” to “I CAN!)

Well, there’s my tips for moving through fear. What works for you? Do you have any other great suggestions I could try? Let me know!


2 Responses

  1. Kerry

    Thank you Jo, I love your steps for moving through fear 🙂 And what a lot of fear there seems to be around at the moment!

    I find all your strategies helpful, and add in tapping which sends calming signals to my nervous system and my subconscious mind throughout the process. Jessica Ortner says that our subconscious minds resist change – even good change that we want – because from an evolutionary point of view, doing anything new was potentially dangerous. Our most primitive brain is simply trying to keep us alive, by keeping everything the same. Tapping helps calm and reassure that primitive part of us. I also love the words a tapping session starts with: “Even though I feel …. (terrified/ inadequate… etc), I deeply love and profoundly accept myself”. Just that deliberate statement of self-acceptance can change the way I feel, as so often its easy to judge myself harshly for being fearful. (There is plenty of info about it on Internet: I especially like Nick and Jessica Ortner from which has free how-to videos under “Tapping 101”)

    “Notice the thoughts you use to deprive yourself of happiness.” Byron Katie

    • The Spirit Of Us

      Hi Kerry – thanks for that suggestion! I have tried it in the past and found it really helpful, but I didn’t even think of it this time around. It’s a great reminder and another simple, useful and powerful tool that others might like to try. So thanks for the website address as well. As you point out, beginning with self-acceptance and not judging ourselves harshly is a really important and liberating step.

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