"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Pushing through Fear: how to deal with uncertainty

Looking over a red rock cliff edge
Fear is a concept that everyone understands, and covers a wide variety of situations across many topics.

But what is fear and how do we deal with fear?

On its own it is less an emotion and more of a reaction to a perceived threat, which results in such emotions as: anxiety, panic and even anger. 

It often has a physical reaction associated with it, such as shaking, sweating, and throwing up. In my post on about breaking the cycle of anxiety I talk about this reaction, better know as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response.

Fear can paralyse us physically, mentally and emotionally, and on occasion shut us down entirely. 

“Don’t let your fear of what could happen make nothing happen.” - Doe Zantamata
 
Many fears that affect our day to day lives are based on ‘what if’ scenarios we run in our heads. We’re scared of what we did before, we’re scared of what we might do in the future, and we’re scared of what we are doing today. It can put up many barriers in how we function, and stop us reaching for the things we want in our life.

When trying to change our lives and ourselves some of the fears we may encounter are: 
  • Fear of facing past hurt
  • Fear of repeating past behaviours/events
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Uncertainty
In some respects they all feed into each other - fear of change is also a fear of the unknown, or something that is not familiar to us, and we become uncertain.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

There are ways to combat these fears.

When dealing with the fear of facing things from the past that have hurt, I try and rationalise them. I ask myself, what will happen if I think about this or talk about this? The answer is that I’ll feel that pain again, or experience those feelings again. But I remind myself that the event is past, I am not experiencing it again; it is only the memory of the event. And how much meaning I have given that memory will result in how it affects me in the present moment.

Often letting something out will release its power. If I say it out loud, it can be like hearing it for the first time, or from a different viewpoint. Or if I write it down, it is like reading it for the first time and seeing it in black and white. It reveals another truth.

Many times there are other factors in the event that we have not seen before, but are revealed through this process. We can then look at the entire event differently and change the meaning of it. We can update the thoughts and emotions we have about (as described in the post Backtracking Thoughts and Emotions). By doing this we reduce and change the emotional response we have to it when we think about it.

When those past hurts are trapped in our head, they keep going round and round, and we end up persecuting ourselves. Once we let them out, whether spoken or written – or both – we stop that and form a new way of dealing with them, allowing ourselves to move forward, and not be immobilised by them anymore.

What you fear will not go away by constantly thinking about it. It will go away when you see it for what it is.” - Anon

When dealing with fear about change or the unknown, I inform myself. I find out as much as I can by either talking to others who have experienced what I’m going through, or reading about those who have, in books or on the internet. In many cases I feel reassured by finding others that have gone through similar experiences and changes and come out the other side successfully. It enables me to see that it is possible and it gives me the confidence to step forward out of my comfort zone and take the risk too.

A comfort zone is an area we create and live in that is comfortable, where we don’t have to take any risks that might make us have to confront our fears or experience our emotions. A comfort zone is full of everything that is familiar and patterns of behaviour we can be sure of - whether good or bad. If we stay in that comfort zone we don’t have to challenge ourselves, open ourselves up, or make any changes. But it also means we won’t more forward from the place we are at, either physically or mentally.

“If you don’t get uncomfortable leaving your comfort zone, then you haven’t really left it.” - Tim Brownson

In some ways staying in the comfort zone is more risky than trying to push through our fears, because within that zone we are more likely to repeat past negative behaviours and recreate situations we don’t want, rather than bring what we do want. It is only by opening ourselves up and facing our fears, and pushing through them that we can move forward and make progress.

“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” - Jim Morrison

When dealing with uncertainty about whether to take a step towards something or not I tend to use the ‘worst case scenario’ tactic. I ask myself, realistically what is the worst thing that can happen if I do this? I would start with the very extreme negative outcome and work my way back to a more rational realistic outcome.

For example, if I express myself to that person, what is the worst thing they will do? Hit me? Scream at me? How likely is that?

Often it is not likely, so then I would work back to what would be, and realise that what I thought was so terrifying wasn’t anymore.

This can be a handy tactic with anxiety or angst about many things, physical or emotional.

But our ability to overcome our fears is not just about how we deal with them, it is also about how much we want to overcome them, and that desire comes down to whether we believe in ourselves or not.

“Self-esteem and self-love are the opposites of fear; the more you like yourself, the less you fear anything.” — Brian Tracy