Is Fear Holding You Back?
Find out how fear stops you everyday and what you can do to help keep the fear-monster at bay.
When you think of fear, you tend to think of the feeling that you would get if you were in a really scary situation.
Perhaps you associate the feeling of fear with a pounding heart, dry mouth and sweaty palms. Perhaps you think of the feeling of fear that results after a nightmare, where you try to scream and you can’t, then wake up to find yourself all out of sorts, and the monsters in your dream have vanished.
We can plainly see that this is a fear response. Your mind has alerted your body of the danger around, and it’s triggered the survival response to keep you safe.
This is what we think of when we think of fear.
We don’t tend to think of fear as something that holds us back in everyday life. But it does.
I bet that there are there things, everyday, that you would prefer not to do, or if you could, you’d completely avoid them?
Am I right?
I’m talking about everyday stuff - not like doing the cleaning and tidying (after all no one wants to do that), but things like driving into the city, phoning up someone you don’t know or putting your hand up to ask a question at at meeting or in a class?
These things make you uncomfortable. They make you feel on edge. You think twice, actually, you think 3, 4, 5 times before you do them. Sometimes you go waaaaaay out of your route to avoid them. Why? Obviously, you just don’t like them.
Well, actually, if you take a look closer into the situation, you probably have a fear that’s linked to them.
Personally, I really don’t like driving. It took me until my late 20’s before I took lessons and got my licence. It’s not that I couldn’t drive, it’s just that I had a fear of the other drivers on the road and scared I would be in an accident.
I feared roundabouts, junctions and motorways.
I just gripped the steering wheel like my life depended on it. So much, in fact that every time I would stop driving, my fingers really hurt as I tried to stretch them straight again.
I took tons of lessons until my instructor got fed up with me putting the test off, and told me there would be no more lessons until I took the test. So, faced with this and knowing that I was pregnant with my first child, I had to make the decision.
Do I waste all those hours of learning and walk away from driving, or do I sit the test, get my licence and have it should I need it? Living on an Island and being pregnant helped me make this decision. I knew that it would be better if I could drive once the baby came. What if I needed to take them to the hospital? Or what if I just wanted to take them out to the farm for the morning, or I needed to pick up groceries - it’s far easier when you don’t need to carry bags, a baby and a pushchair onto a bus.
The decision was made. I had to sit the test.
I did this and proud to say I passed first time. The thing is, I wasn’t so nervous about sitting the test. I was confident I could drive. It wasn’t about the test. It was about the driving with other people on the road and not knowing what they would do. If they would hit me.
The thing that was holding me back from getting my licence was the fear of being in a collision. Nothing else.
It’s taken me years to become a more relaxed driver. I used to hold my breath at every junction. I would shake nervously when joining a motorway. My legs would feel weak when I got out of the car, and a sense of relief would come to me. By understanding the fear, becoming more aware of my anxiety and by practicing breathing exercises, I am no longer affected like this.
Fear, however, still holds me back from driving any great distances, and if I can avoid it, I will!
Although I have never let the fear stop me when I really needed to use the car, it still makes me think twice before I set off.
The problem with having a fear like this, is that it holds you back for no reason.
I mean, when you break it down, my fear is about being in a collision. Well, that might happen, sure, but just the same, it might not!
Sometime along the way, as I was growing up, a thought got stuck in my head that if you drive, you are more likely to be in a collision.
Sensible head then says, well, you know, you don’t need to be the driver to be in a collision, so why are you not afraid to be a passenger, or a pedestrian?
Can you see that this fear now doesn’t make sense?
You hold yourself back from doing something, ‘just in case’ it happens.
I can’t foretell the future, no one really can. So why make these scenarios up? Are we just over-protecting ourselves?
Take the issue of not being able to ask a question in class or in a meeting. What holds you back? If you really need to ask something, then is this not the best time to find out your answers? There’s bound to be someone else in the room wondering the same as you.
But, no, even the thought of asking the question sparks off the fear response and before you know it your mouth is dry and hands shaking. I mean, even if you were to go ahead and ask now, everyone would notice your shaky hands, and no words would come out of your dry mouth when you go to speak!
This is crazy. Where does this fear come from? It’s not as if these people are monsters about to carve you up for dinner - but somehow you feel that this is exactly what will happen.
You see it all - you ask your question and everyone in the room will laugh at you for being so stupid, or the boss will have a go at you because you should have understood every word they said.
In your mind, you make up all different negative scenarios until you just don’t bother asking and hope that you will be able to figure it all out later on.
It seems so silly, but not at the time. At the time it really feels like the ground could swallow you up!
So, how do you go about overcoming these types of situations and put a stop to the barriers that you are putting up for yourself?
Here’s three steps that I use to start breaking down my barriers built by fear.
Firstly, become aware of your behaviour and actions when you are faced with carrying out a certain task that you always avoid, but need to do. Perhaps you make excuses to yourself and others as to why you can’t do it. You might use others as an excuse as to why you can’t do the task.
You might, actually, find others to do the task for you.
Physically, you may feel butterflies in your stomach or a feeling of dread when you think of doing whatever it is you need to do. You may feel sheer relief when it’s over or avoided.
Just recognise what you do and how you feel when the situation arises.
You need to acknowledge your physical and emotional responses to it.
This is a huge step forward. If you recognise and accept that you have a fear of something, then you can then stop avoiding it and start to take action to resolve the situation and face up to it.
The next step I take is to understand my thought processes behind the fear.
So, start wondering why you fear this particular task? What has made you attach a fear response to it?
This will help you to realise that the fear came from a past experience or from an imaginary one.
Perhaps you picked up the fear from a bad experience, or from something that someone said to you. Maybe you saw something on TV that has made you wary of this task. It could even have come from a bad dream that you once had, or an experience that someone else has had.
Just remember, though, any bad past experiences are just that - in the past. It’s no longer in the present and you have no way of predicting whether it will happen again in the future.
Just by having an understanding where the fear is coming from then you can start working on facing the task that you fear.
So, the first two steps helps you to identify that you have a fear, where the fear has come from and acknowledging that whatever happened in the past or in your mind, is not guaranteed to actually happen in the future.
Your future experience is a blank canvas. It needn’t be overshadowed with fear.
The next step is to actively face your fear.
They say that practice makes perfect, so if you practice doing what you fear, eventually you will become better at the task and it will become so unimportant and common practice for you, that you will forget to be fearful about it.
If you need support or encouragement from others to do this, then don’t hesitate to ask. Most people will be understanding, encouraging and proud of you facing your fear.
If you need to find ways to control your response to anxiety that it brings, then think about ways in which you could do this. Do you need to try breathing exercises? Would drinking more water help? Perhaps try herbal or aromatherapy remedies?
It might sound a bit drastic to just go and face your fear, but think about it. The more you do it, and the more you learn to cope with the situation and realise that the world doesn’t come to an end, then the less fear you will attach to the situation.
Remember, this is a task that is holding you back from achieving things in life. Just don’t let it.
Try making a list of all the reasons why you should do the task rather than why you shouldn’t.
Change your mindset towards it and make it your goal to overcome the fear of this task. Once you have done this, you will feel so empowered, and believe me, you will start looking through all the other things that you feel hold you back, and, before you know it, you’ll be to facing up to them too.
It really becomes addictive!
So, I challenge you to identify one everyday task that you have attached a fear to and go try take steps to reduce your fear.
Soon you’ll be carrying out the task with more confidence and determination.
Don’t let fear come in the way of your daily life and potentially a better future.