A four-letter word with almost limitless power (when given free-range), killing joy, killing dreams, stunting the growth of millions, destroying lives, often turning ordinary people into hapless if not helpless captives.
Hearts pounding, palms sweating, mouths blotting-paper dry—we all know those scenarios. And yet, fear can also be much subtler, more insidious, if not deadlier.
We all face fear. Some more than others. It also affects us differently. There are comfort and concern in that.
What would your life look like if you were not afraid?
What would you write if you were not afraid?
Why would you not leave an abusive relationship (home or work) if you were not afraid?
What would you do differently if you weren’t afraid of rejection or humiliation?
Fear (too) often rules our lives.
Much of our fear is legitimate and real. Getting out of bed in the morning to face a broken relationship with an (abusive) spouse or child or sibling or having to face a job or boss or a co-worker that is toxic or having to deal with one’s crumbling health or one’s ruined finances can be intimidating and fearful, if not dangerous when left unchecked.
Fear and angst cover a broad spectrum: from the trivial, the fearful of being late to ordinary daily fears such as pressure from work or family responsibilities to the more serious, debilitating phobias or the exposure to severe violence, abuse, and trauma which can leave us with PTSD and multitudes of fears.
Fear, that so often renders us hapless can, with patience, practice, and intention be harnessed and subdued.
What would your life look like if you weren’t governed by fear? What would your life look like if you could master some of those fears?
Negative self-talk gets us nowhere, other than robbing us of opportunities for growth and overcoming obstacles and leading more meaningful (and more fulfilled and happier) lives.
There are such things as healthy fears—when actual danger lurks and physical safety is at stake, instinctive fear speaks to our common sense, saving lives. Learn to listen to it. Dysfunctional fear, however, is fear that is significant enough to hamper our wellbeing, to the point of incapacitating, often stealing years from our and our loved ones’ lives, robbing our days from much joy and fulfillment and peace of mind.
It’s not about easy solutions and quick fixes, but we do not have to float helplessly in an ocean of fear, rudderless. We can act (amid our fear); we can learn to curb and tame our angst.
7 Things to do with fear:
1. Be brave. Be brave a little while longer and a little more often. Ordinary people, like you and I, can be brave too. Courage never implies the absence of fear. It is never easy. However, every brave step you take emboldens you for the next, strengthening you. You can do brave.
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
2. Get help. Get professional help with incapacitating fears. Your family doctor can put you in touch with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Behavioral therapy has a place. Medication, as part of a healthy lifestyle adjustment program, has benefits. Your pastor can be of help. Sometimes, the police need to be called. (Please, just don’t do nothing!)
The 7 F’s to Fight off the Blues can be of help with subduing fears: Faith, Family & Friends, Food, Fitness, Focused reading and writing, & Fine art.
• Fighting fear without faith in a living God who loves us is an uphill battle
• Healthy relationships with trusted family and friends are pure gold
• We can eat ourselves healthier
• Physical exercise is an incredible tool to help cure many ailments, including fear
• Writing and reading can help us heal—it can save lives
• Therapeutic art is a thing—it helps us heal and find wholeness
“God is love … There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.”
I John 4:16,18
3. Rephrase it. Reframe what fear is telling you. Our bodies prepare us for a “fight or flight” scenario when confronted with an acute stressful situation. Being excited and being fearful share similarities. Instead of saying “I am fearful about …” we rephrase it using positive self-talk, saying “I am getting excited about …”
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Mary Anne Radmacher
4. Push through it, in spite of it.
Keep going; it’s not the end. Push past the worst-case scenario and let the situation play itself out. It is (often) not as bad as you fear. Much, if not most of our perceived fears never come to fulfillment. However, if things do get out of hand, if your life is in danger, please bail out, get help. Reach out. There is hope.
“Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.”
5. Take action. Just do it.
Take the first step. Like Nike, the sportswear company that teaches: just do it. Give yourself credit: you have the will, you have the strength. Give yourself permission to step up and accept the challenge, small or big as it may be. Don’t overthink it. Do it. It becomes easier each time you do it.
“Courage is feeling fear, not getting rid of fear, and taking action in the face of fear.”
Roy T. Bennett
6. Write it down. Prove it wrong.
If fear paralyzes your life and robs you of joy and growth, write about it. Write it down—journal about it.
For example, she said I couldn’t do it; I can’t get fit and stronger. He said you’ll never fit in the bikini again.
I’m not a real writer. I’m afraid of finishing my manuscript.
Take steps to prove the naysayers wrong. Learn a new technique.
Start with a walk every day and learn about resistance-exercises.
Start writing 250 – 500 words daily. Read more and wider. It will help your writing.
Go back once a week and see what you’ve written and how you’ve progressed.
Writing, expressive writing—can help us heal.
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
7. Break it up—break your fear into smaller pieces.
By making it smaller, by breaking it up, it becomes manageable, less daunting and more doable.
Start with ten minutes of brisk walking every day. Then increase with 5-min slots.
Start with 250 words a day. Start small. Build a habit.
What would your life look like if you weren’t governed by fear?
We all face fear. Some more than others. It’s not to downplay the devastation fear and angst can cause in our lives—to the contrary.
We have to acknowledge our fears.
However, we do not have to be hapless and helpless captives and victims.
There is a way out. There is help.
Talk is not enough. We have to act.
Let’s not give fear free range of our lives and allow it to rob us of our joy and purpose and allow it to crush our dreams and hope and sensibility.
“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.”
Let’s be brave a little longer, let’s take action amid our fear, for we can. Moreover, in doing so, we’ll stand stronger and encourage others who have given up hope.
A more detailed version of this article has also appeared on Medium
1. Alison W. Brooks. Get Excited: Reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitement. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2014. 143 (3), 1144-1158
2. Ellen Hendriksen. 4 Simple steps to conquer your fears. July 28, 2016
3. Suzanne Degges-White. Keep Calm and Carry on is bad advice. April 12, 2016.
Thank you for reading!
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