What does it really mean to face your fears?
Fear stops us in our tracks. Over and over again. You may not even recognise the feeling you get as “fear” but I’m sure most of us know that sense of hesitation, backing away or just a blank internal “no.” Fear can stop you from letting yourself grow, speaking up, asking for help, taking physical risks or letting someone in. It’s usually a combination of past experiences and conditioning and its voice can feel like an absolute truth (“If you do that then this bad thing will happen”).
The reality is that no one knows what will happen next and fear is simply the voice telling you that the results will be negative or harmful to you. We often have a tendency to take something more seriously because it’s negative but actually fear is no more ‘right’ than faith or trust. Neither reality exists at the moment you choose to believe in one outcome or the other. You can leap towards the negative - or the other way.
So, that’s all good on paper. But what can you do about fears that feel like they are controlling your life or even just keeping you stuck in small but frustrating ways? Face them. That’s the only option that anyone actually has when it comes to fears.
But wait, let me tell you what I actually mean by that. Because this language can feel filled with a very toxic energy as if the only option is to grit your teeth and get through stuff. If you’ve read any of my writing before you’ll know that I don’t subscribe to that. As humans, the whole gritting your teeth and clenching your fists process leaves us rigid and inflexible and makes it much less likely that we’ll succeed in moving beyond whatever we currently feel trapped in. So that’s definitely not what I mean.
I think facing your fears is a process. One that is made up of small steps. It is navigated with a huge amount of self-compassion and it starts with what you know about yourself. Here it is:
What is the fear? Where is it coming from? The first step is to stop that fear howling around in the back of your mind and clarify what is actually activating you. Write it down. Vocalise it to someone you trust. The thing about fear is that it often loses its power when you turn and look at it in this way. It’s like that light projecting onto a hatstand that creates a shadow that looks like a monster. But actually, it’s just a hatstand.
How do you feel it in your body?
Fear is a very tangible emotion - it doesn’t stop at thoughts in the head, you might also feel it throughout your body, whether that’s as a tight chest and fast heartbeat or sweaty palms and a headache. The point of noticing how fear affects you physically is because this gives you another option for navigating it.
Learn how to bring your body back into a state of calm and you’ll feel much more able to take that step forward or say what you need to say. Some of the simplest ways to do this are breathwork, exercise or - as one of my lovely clients does - dance it off.
Do what scares you
It scares you because you’ve never done it so you’re not sure what’s possible for you, what the experience of doing it will feel like, how you’ll handle it or whether it’s going to work out. This is the very definition of something outside your comfort zone - and the only way to bring something into your comfort zone is to get comfortable with it. So, make it a habit to identify what that fear is, and then start thinking about how to do whatever it is you’re afraid of.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean anything that’s going to recklessly endanger you or others (even if it’s an extreme sport or something really challenging it still doesn’t have to be reckless). The point here is to shift your mindset from “fear means I must retreat” to “fear means get curious about a step forward.”
Get used to the idea of taking calculated risks
If you want to continue expanding through life then risk is going to be a necessary part of that. Often when we sense a risk we pull away and that’s where everything ends. But you don’t have to take this approach to risk. Risk is something that is always going to feel unnerving and uncertain but there are things you can do to manage it, no matter what the activity.
For example, I’m a cold water swimmer and in winter the risk of hypothermia is high. Rather than simply avoiding the water or plunging in and hoping for the best, I've learned (sometimes the hard way) that you can lower the risks involved by focusing on the right preparation. A hot drink to warm you up, gloves for hands and boots for feet so that they don’t go numb. A watch with a timer to ensure that you don’t stay in too long. Going with someone else so that you’re not on your own if you run into trouble. Risk doesn’t equal recklessness and if you’re feeling a lot of fear, part of facing that is going to be making risk your (always slightly uncomfortable) friend.
Open up to the idea of leaps of faith
You know what scares you, you’ve got your nervous system in a comfortable place and you’ve calculated your risks - this is the point with fear where you might need to take a leap of faith. Sometimes it’s the only transport available. You don’t have to try and force yourself to assume a positive outcome - but be open to the fact that the possibility exists for better things than you even hoped.
The thing about fear is that we can’t change what it feels like - but we can change what it means to us. It can either be a totally triggering event that overwhelms everything and paralyses us like a rabbit in the headlights. Or it can be something we feel, then ride the wave and still keep functioning. Facing your fears means that they are less likely to overwhelm you - instead of your mind and body being filled up with fear, it’s still there but there’s room for other things too (taking action, planning, asking for help, etc).
Resilience coaching tools give you more resources for dealing with obstacles like fear, anxiety, overwhelm and burnout. I can work with you on your unique combination of challenges to find a way forward that works for you. Book a free 10-minute intro call to find out more.