This article was originally published on PhiladelphiaMFT.com. Be sure to check out their site for professional relationship and sex advice.
We hear it frequently: “Live life to the fullest.” “Do you.” “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Quite frankly it’s all true. Amazing things happen to you when you find the courage to step outside of your comfort zone; however it’s easier said than done. Learning how to not be a slave to your fear is a challenge when you physically, mentally and emotionally feel like you’re going to fail when facing challenging life situations.
What is fear and why do we feel it?
Fear is your body’s response to a situation, person or thing that we believe may bring us harm or death. It alerts your fight or flight system; simply put it makes us run away or towards a situation. During caveman times, fight or flight was a very necessary thing; it kept us alive. In the present day fear has grown from something that keeps the human race going to something that keeps us from experiencing life and all that it has to offer. As a society we’ve grown to be irrationally fearful of anything that challenges us: relationships, change, public speaking, asking your boss for a raise; you name it, we’re afraid of it. With over 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States living with a diagnosable anxiety disorder: fear seems to have gotten the best of us. But it doesn’t have to. This topic of the week will be focusing on how to face and overcome your fears so that you can use them to improve the quality of your life and relationships.
1. Know your fear triggers
Get a handle on the things that make you unreasonably anxious and fearful by understanding what triggers those feelings. Is it having to say no to someone you love? Having difficult conversations or meeting new people? Or a fear of failure? We’re all fearful of things that we need to encounter to positively change our lives and relationships. Being aware of those triggers allows you to better assess if your fear is unreasonable or valid.
2. Understand your responses to fear
So what exactly happens to you when you’re afraid? Fear has a very visceral response. We don’t just feel it emotionally but it physically does a number on your body, even to the point where your immune system can be weakened if you remain in fight or flight mode for too long. Being mindful of both your physical and emotional responses to fear can help you identify what’s going on in the moment and how to use it to your benefit. Mentally when you’re afraid how do you respond? Do you become avoidant, irritable, or shut down completely? Physically what happens? Sweaty palms, shaking voice, and nausea get the best of you? Learn how to own it. When you first notice these symptoms occurring take a moment to step away and breathe deeply for a few moments. Then ask yourself if this fear to whatever is challenging you is real or irrational. Once you’ve checked in with yourself and honestly assessed your fear; tackle it head on.
3. Feel the fear and do it anyway
Fear can be a valuable asset if you let it. Performers such as Beyoncé and Bruce Springsteen have reported that their overwhelming feelings of anxiety have pushed them to perform at their peak ability when they channeled it correctly. Of course you’re not a world renowned entertainer but you too can achieve greatness if you allow yourself to feel the fear and do it anyway. Making a conscious effort to choose your fight responses instead of flight responses allows your body to use that fear to overcome your challenges. Another benefit to workingwith your fear is that you become more courageous then you ever imagined you could be. The more you welcome fear, the less things shake you to your core.
There are many times where fear will get the best of you, but if you practice feeling the fear and using it to your advantage, you too can utilize fear to improve the quality of your life and relationships.