Physical responses to fear can be downright scary: an increased heart rate, shaky hands, short breaths, feeling faint, nausea. It can be enough to make you avoid doing the things that make you afraid.
But what if those things are necessary to get you to the life you’ve been dreaming of living?
What if avoiding those things means living a life that you will regret later?
There is an answer, five actually, that I’ve found that can help you make those fear responses less scary and in turn take steps towards the life of your dreams.
I’ve mentioned this book before, but Hope and Health for your Nerves by Dr. Claire Weekes is one of the best resources I’ve found for helping people understand what’s going on in their bodies when they experience fear.
A huge part of fear is of the unknown. Dr. Weekes’ noticed this in her clients, “The great majority of my nervously ill patients have been made ill and kept ill because of the way they feel; because of fear of what they think may happen next.”
Imagination mixed with an increased heart rate can make you feel like you might fall apart. Just know that you won’t and take steps to learn why you won’t.
You might not physically feel better right away, but from personal experience, knowing that what is happening in my body in times of fear is natural and not likely to kill me has helped me to accept it and still take the next step.
When you’re in the throes of fear, it’s very likely that you are taking short and shallow breaths. This only makes things worse.
Practice deep breathing.
When I notice that I’m in the middle of letting feelings of fear or anxiety (or any other intense feeling) get the best of me, I say to myself “Ten breaths.” and I stop what I’m doing and take ten deep, slow breaths.
In addition to helping you center yourself and decrease the feelings of fear, taking a deep breath break can also help create some space between what you’re experiencing and what might be a larger perspective that you can’t see without taking a step back.
If you have a habit of breathing more shallowly (as I do) it might be hard to try this at first. One tip I learned was to take a big breath in through your nose (forgetting momentarily about whether it’s deep or not) and then take a big breath out through your mouth. Pretend you’re blowing out a candle until you feel like you’ve blown out all the air in your lungs. Breathe in again through your nose and hopefully you will find that you are breathing more deeply from your belly.
You may have to practice it a bit. Try practicing first, when you are calm. Also note that sometimes you will still feel other scary symptoms while taking deep breaths. Don’t worry, they will pass eventually.
So how do you stop in the midst of those fearful moments? Practice mindful awareness.
I took an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class based on the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn. In that course, I learned about the importance of mindful living, where you practice observing what is going on in your life and in your body without judgment.
This practice mainly involves meditation (which in full honesty, I haven’t done in a while), but I’ve found that creating a little separation within yourself by imagining that there is the you who is experiencing things and another you that is observing things does the trick even if you don’t regularly mediate.
When you are being aware by viewing fearful moments from this “bird’s eye view,” you can notice when you’re getting carried away by fearful symptoms and then take a moment to breathe deeply or do something else to stop the momentum so you can take the steps that once scared you.
When fearful feelings come up, another way of being aware is to stop and write about what you’re experiencing.
Writing can be very cathartic, especially when you allow yourself to write honestly about how you feel. The act of writing provides some space and perspective and very often helps you to understand why you’re really afraid.
Writing prompts can be very powerful. You begin a sentence and then allow yourself to finish it with whatever comes to mind first, no judgment or self-censorship.
When my heart races in this way, I’m afraid that _________________________________.
If I were being honest with myself, I’m really afraid of _________________________________.
I hate that I feel this way because _________________________________.
If you don’t like to write, recording yourself speaking can be effective as well.
Accepting how you’re feeling can be hard to do. How can you accept things that feel so awful? Have you ever felt that way?
What’s really helped me learn how to accept how I feel when I’m afraid is allowing myself to totally dislike how I feel and sometimes even hate it.
It may be just a simple mind trick, but I’ve found that allowing myself to dislike how it feels when my hands get shaky or my stomach starts to tense up has helped me get to acceptance faster than pretending that I like what’s happening.
Accepting just means don’t fight what comes up, sit with it, acknowledge that it is your current experience, and move forward anyway.
So those are just five easy ways to make fear less scary so that you can do what needs to be done to live a life with no regrets. Do you have any more that you’ve used? Does anyone that I’ve shared sound interesting? I’d love to hear from you. We’re all in this together!
Until next time!
Have you ever read one of my interviews with someone who hugged their fear and wished that you could share your story? Or do you know someone who would make a great fear hugging feature if you just presented them with the offer? Well now’s your chance!
Starting today, you can share your story or send someone you know to this page to share theirs. Just answer the questions, press submit and I’ll take it from there. Pretty simple!
I truly believe in the power of sharing your story and reading other people’s stories. Here are just a few reasons I find it so helpful (I’m sure you can add your own):
When sharing your story with others…
When reading others’ stories…
So I hope you take me up on this offer to share your story or to suggest. Just visit this page to get started and let me know if you have any questions or comments here.
I recently had a talk with one of my friends about fear and she told me a fabulous story about how every time she goes skiing and gets on top of a big slope, she stops, slides her skis backwards a bit and feels very afraid. The only way that she can move forward down that slope is to begin talking to herself and to her fear. She says things like, “You know that you can do this! You’ve done it time and time again! You’ve had fun doing this!” And soon enough after the mental pep talk, she moves forward and skis successfully down the slope.
I thought that this was a powerful example of how talking to yourself and talking back to fear can work. I actually thought about this for a while in the days after I heard her tell this story and I realized that this method can be applied to many situations where you feel paralyzed with fear.
When facing an action step towards a goal that scares us, it’s easy to develop selective amnesia. We completely forget our power or past situations that would prove to ourselves how capable we are to the task.
Even before hearing my friend’s story, I realized that I was not making the most of the accomplishments I had in the past to help me move forward in the present. I am in the process of changing some pretty integral parts of my life and feeling terrified about taking any action steps forward. I still struggle with letting fear convince me that I’m not up to the task, but speaking back to it and using examples has helped diffuse those fears tremendously.
Here are some more specific things I’ve learned and am still learning (it’s a work in progress):
The tone you use can help. Speaking to yourself in a serious and authoritative tone sometimes gets through clearer than being more gentle. I don’t mean being abusive or calling yourself names, but speaking with authority about why you can do something now given what you’ve seen yourself do before.
Say it loud. Talking back to fear out loud is something I’m trying and it has the unintended (or intended) benefit of making me giggle, mostly because I feel silly. The benefit comes from the not really scientific “fact” that giggling and fear cannot be in the same place at the same time. This makes me remember an acceptance and commitment therapy exercise author Russ Harris shared in his book The Happiness Trap. In the exercise, you give your thoughts a funny voice (ex. Mickey Mouse) and it takes some of the sting out of them (and tends to make you giggle). Go ahead and talk back to your fear as Mickey Mouse and see what happens and then let me know because I’m sure it’ll be a good story). This could be used with the authoritative tone or as an alternative. Go for whichever works best at the time.
Remind yourself of the benefits. I really like how my friend told herself, “You’ve had fun doing this.” In times of fear, it’s easy to be hyper focused on the “bad” things that might happen. Why not try reminding yourself in your “talk back” session about the good things that will likely happen when you take this step based on your experiences moving forward when afraid. Even if it’s only that you’ll feel proud of yourself for taking that step. A feeling of pride at your accomplishments can feel pretty good.
You don’t need the same past experience for it to help. If I was reading instead of writing this, one question I would ask is “But what if I don’t have any past examples of me doing what I’m afraid to do? I really haven’t done this before!” My answer for this is to get creative. One of the fears that comes up most often lately is that I can’t take steps towards this online business idea that I have because I don’t know what to do and haven’t ever done it before. To that objection my responses have been “There have been plenty of times when you’ve figured out how to do something you once didn’t know how to do. You’re life is filled with examples: walking, using a computer, learning WordPress, getting proficient at a new job, etc. You are perfectly capable of learning how to do this online business and you don’t have to be perfect at it. So just take a step, any step! And do it right now!”
Old habits die hard. You will have to talk back to fear again and again and again and again. This is normal and should be expected. Middle note: I still have to remind myself daily that it is normal and to be expected. My friend has to give herself “the talk” each and every time she gets up on that slope and she is not a new skier. As much as it sounds good to think we can get to a point where we are no longer afraid of anything (that sounds nice, right?), it’s just not going to happen. And I say this to remind myself as much as to remind you.
Have you ever tried talking back to your fear? Has it worked for you? Do you do something else? I’d love to hear in the comments. The more we share with each other, the more we all can learn and grow!
If You Liked This Post, You Might Also Like:
Interview with Melissa Joy Kong: “Get excited about being terrified”
Can you Be Grateful for Fear? Here Are 7 Reasons Why I Am.
If you’ve been reading Hug Your Fear for a while, you’ll remember today’s interviewee. I originally interviewed Louise Watson about how she overcame her fear and quit her teaching job to take time to explore her true passion, writing. Well, one of the fruits of her leap was that her first book, Stop Making Your Life a Misery, was recently published. Her book is all about how she “broke a thirty-year cycle of negativity” to become more happy, confident and at peace. I loved it so much that I just had to ask her to share how she overcame her fear and published this book. I asked Louise five questions and she graciously shared her answers below.
I think the one thing that scared me most when writing the book was revealing ‘too much’ about myself. I don’t always find it easy to be open with others so I can appear to be something a mystery to those around me! I suppose when you’re used to just keeping yourself to yourself you begin to fear that saying too much will lead to rejection. I thought people would laugh at some of the things I said; for example in Chapter 4 I talk about my disastrous love life. Part of me was screaming, ‘What are you doing, woman? You can’t tell people that!’ But I decided my embarrassment around the topic was one of the reasons I had to go ahead and do it, because so many people are in the same situation and their shame keeps them from speaking about it. As a result they stay stuck with this mentality that love is something that happens to other people and not to them, and I wanted to help them see that they don’t have to feel that way.
I was also fearful of talking about things that have happened to me in the past. Even though I don’t go into a huge amount of detail, I was still worried that the other people involved might read it, recognise themselves and come round and get me! I came to realise that it was my ‘old self’ creeping back in; the one who was too afraid to stand up for myself. I always allowed people to treat me badly and didn’t say anything because I was too scared of being left on my own or making someone angry. I reminded myself that I hadn’t named names in the book, that I had tried to be compassionate to others and hadn’t blamed anyone else for anything – after all, the whole point of the book is taking responsibility! But above all I told myself that I had a right to express how I felt about my experiences, something I had denied myself too often in the past.
As I said, a lot of it was talking back to the negative voice in my head and reassuring my ‘old self’ that everything would be fine. I also reminded myself that I had similar fears when I had my first article published on Tiny Buddha and that a year later it’s still receiving great comments from people saying how much it’s helped them. I think that’s one of the main things that helps me to carry on when the self-doubt creeps in; reminding myself that it’s not all about me and that other people might benefit from hearing what I have to say.
Another thing that has helped is to tell myself that I’d been doing the same thing for most of my life; shutting down and hiding myself away through fear of not being good enough. That’s partly what made me so unhappy, so perhaps trying something else might be a good idea! In fact it’s only since I began to do things differently that I’ve seen my life start to improve, so it’s odd that I still need to remind myself of that sometimes, but I do.
Last time I mentioned A Course in Miracles; well I’ve actually started to read and study it now! It’s been a great help in reminding me that if I’m feeling afraid, it’s because I’m looking at things the wrong way. Keeping a regular yoga and meditation practice has also helped. I’ve got much better now at catching the negative thoughts before they have a chance to take over.
It’s also been great that I’m still in contact with some of the people I met on Screw Work Let’s Play’s 30 Day Challenge, an online programme I did back in November. Being able to share my fears with people going through the same experience of venturing into self employment and putting themselves ‘out there’ has made me feel a lot less alone and reminded me that we’re all the same; even those who appear the most confident have their own insecurities to deal with. Finding someone who’s going through the same thing as you, whatever it may be, really does help and thanks to the internet that’s much easier to do nowadays.
As you know, I’m also learning to play the piano, and practising that every day helps to keep me calm and take my mind off anything I might be tempted to worry about. I know not everyone will play an instrument, but having a hobby of some kind that you can get ‘stuck into’ does help you to stay in ‘the moment’ and not get carried away with your fearful thoughts.
I would say the first step doesn’t have to be anything big. Take teeny tiny steps if that’s all you can manage now. It might be just doing some online research, sending someone an email or going along to a meeting. With every step you take it gets easier.
It also helps to look back at other times you’ve been afraid; for example when I started teaching I was terrified; now when I look back I can’t believe how nervous I was. It’s like looking at a different person. Remembering that helps me when I’m feeling sacred now; I tell myself that I always feel that way when doing something new and it will pass.
And I know it sounds clichéd, but we really do regret the things we don’t do more than the things we do. I’ve met so many people who have said things like ‘I wish I did this’, or ‘I really want to do that but I’m too scared’. I remember when I used to say the same thing, so I know how it feels; wanting something more for your life but just being too afraid to go out and get it is a pretty depressing way to live. You see other people going for it and wish you could be like them, if only you were braver, more confident or whatever. What I’ve come to realise is that it’s by taking those first steps towards your goal that you become more confident in yourself and your abilities.
I think I’m proof that anyone can overcome fear and go for their dreams. I used to be painfully shy (still am in some circumstances), had no confidence whatsoever, was sometimes too scared to even leave the house on my own and my ambition in life was to find a job where I could sit in an office somewhere, get on with my work and not speak to anyone all day! If anyone had told me that years later I would write a book and publish my work online, I’d have laughed at them. Then probably go home and cry because I thought I’d never be able to do anything like that. Really, if even I can do it, anyone can!
So there you have it? Are you inspired? I am! If you’re looking for some inspiration and struggle with fear and self-doubt (which I’m assuming you do because you’re reading this blog!), I fully recommend reading Louise’s book. She’s not paying me to say this and I get no cut of whatever book sales she has, I just genuinely liked her book and felt very inspired and reassured while reading it. If you want to follow up with what she’s doing, visit her Facebook page here.