Fear is like an invisible wall. We try to pretend that it is not there but it stops us from moving forward. There is so much unspoken fear in our lives and it can manifest in many forms. Some are better at finding ways around it but we all have to face it in our lives. Fear is a natural and useful tool for our survival. It forces us to take care and pay attention – protecting us from harm and excessive risk taking. But it also can seriously hold us back if we allow it to take us over. The fact is that most of the things we fear are things that we have little control over. Today we have less risks to our body than in the distant past but our minds are not content with this knowledge and we invent new enemies that may or may not exist. We have to acknowledge our fear but we also need to keep moving forward in life – not becoming trapped. This means an honest appraisal of the risks of doing something but also noticing the risks of not doing something. We only have one short life, too precious to squander on fear.
Fear breeds on the uncertain, the unknown. Fear can be contained by focusing on what is certain right now and making an effort to shut down the anticipation of what “could” happen in the future. We can do this by taking a step back from the spinning mind that is leading us deeper and deeper into “what ifs” and focus on what is true right now. When we choose silence, we take a moment to refocus our attention on the fact that right now, we are ok. We are breathing, we are comfortable, and in this moment, we have everything we need to be ok. This does not remove all the problems but it gives us a break and helps to dispel our fear. Another way to contain our fear is to focus on concrete actions of things we can do and make clear decisions about what we will focus on right now. If we are unable to come up with an action or a plan, this is a likely candidate for the “back burner” to deal with when we are feeling better. The reality is that we can only focus on a small number of things at one time so we have to make a list of all the things that are bothering us and then prioritise the things that we need to act on. Reflecting on what is really going on and creating space to think helps to focus a spinning mind.
Small actions that help us to keep moving, also help to dispel our fear by giving us something concrete on which to focus. If we are unable to take concrete action to directly address the things that are overwhelming us, we can also choose to take concrete action to take care of ourselves. Choosing something that will help us to stay healthy in the face of fear will also make it easier for us to cope. Cooking a healthy meal, taking some exercise or doing something to improve our environment can distract us from the things that are worrying us and gives us a break from feelings of anxiety. We cannot distract ourselves from the things we need to deal with forever but we must recognise our limitations to cope with things that overwhelm us. Creating even a small space in which to gather our thoughts and bring our physical response symptoms under control will give us the chance to formulate a way forward.
We must try to remember that no matter how tempting it is to sink into the negative feeling and thoughts that arise from our fear, it is vital for our survival that we try to find positive thoughts and healthy ways of coping with what is going on. These are times when it is easier to fall into self-abuse through overeating, drinking, or other habits that will harm us in the long-term. We have to question the things that we are unable to cope with and find a positive way forward. This may require facing some difficult questions but facing up to our fear and breaking it down into potential options and actions short circuits the fatalistic tendencies of our minds and helps us to move forward in a healthy way with more confidence. Sometimes just taking the time to review the things that are overwhelming us and understanding that often we have choices about how we can move forward helps to dispel the fear. If we can distinguish a choice, we are in a good position to change for the better.
We are all worthy of consideration and we are not weak because we suffer anxiety or fear. We often overestimate what we can cope with and we are not always comfortable being open with others about the fact that we are overwhelmed. We are worried that we will be negatively judged if we show our weakness but almost certainly most people all struggle in the same way. If you are struggling and are unable to unravel all this on your own, it is definitely worth considering talking to a counsellor or doctor. The strategies above will help many but there are times when we need a bit of help.
Again I encourage you to regularly find a few minutes and choose silence. Be kind to yourself and appreciate that you can be ok in yourself even if the world around you is crazy. The two things are not the same. I also recommend a book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway“. This book has been around for a long time but when I first read it many years ago, it made a big difference to me.