Fear. It’s a strange emotion. Have you ever felt like you are constantly living in a state of fear? Fear of the unknown, fear of taking risks, fear of change, fear of anything? Fear – being a primal emotion with ties to survival – is often coupled with anxiety (especially in my case). Though the statistics show the pervasive nature of anxiety in our society, it still seems as though we’re conditioned to avoid talking about our fears and anxieties. It’s an interesting thought experiment, but is it possible that we have created a feedback loop where avoiding the topic of anxiety actually creates a culture of more anxiety? Everyone is fearful of something. Let’s break the feedback loop and start talking.
To be clear, fear and anxiety are nothing to be ashamed of. These emotions can actually be healthy and a path to personal and professional growth. Here are some things to try to work through your own fears and anxieties:
- Face the animal. Identify and become aware of your fears to understand their negative affect on your life. My biggest fear is failure. Sometimes, I embrace that fear because it drives me to do more. Sometimes, your fears may not affect your life in obvious ways. To identify their impact, take a moment to reflect and attempt to identify parts of your life impacted by fear that you really had not considered before.
A great example is that my fear of failure drove me to check my emails constantly on vacation, weekends and weeknights in order to make sure I was ahead of the curve at work. Consequently, checking my email constantly affected my relationships because others in my life began to feel secondary to my work and it would throw my whole life out of balance.
- Dig deep. It’s one thing to identify and be aware of your fears but it’s also important to dig deep and understand the ramifications of those fears. Talking to yourself – I find – is very helpful for this. For me, I really don’t mind failing in relationships or a tennis match or cooking – my fear is very specific towards work. I get scared and worry needlessly about a circumstance at work that I might not even think twice about at home.
When I first started talking and then later listening to myself, I began to understand how I was reacting to my fear. I found I would shut down, curl up on the couch and pretend and hope whatever was causing the fear would blow over and go away. Everyone reacts to fear differently and sometimes it depends on the magnitude of the trigger. It’s important to understand how you react and how your reactions affect the quality of your life.
- Ask the question, “So what”? Talk out the fear. When you are aware of your fear and how you react to it, talk it out and try to bring some logic to it. Ask yourself, “So what”? I am scared of failing and because of that I tend to ignore relationships to focus on work. I can keep going down this rabbit hole but so what? What if I fail? What’s the worst that could happen? If you begin to talk it out, you’ll find that your perceived fears are far worse than the reality of the situation. When I play out many of the scenarios I’ve cooked up, it usually will come down to “Well, I’ll be out of a job”. This, in all honesty, is not that bad if you continue on the path and keep asking yourself the question of “So what”?
There’s always a new opportunity on the horizon and though it’ll be tough in the short term, I’ll find a new job and move on to a new opportunity. I find that we exaggerate our fears and the likelihood of worst case scenarios actually occurring is very slim. So talk out your fear and use logic to work through it. You’ll find there’s a path out of even your worst fears.
- Journal your gratitude. When you get scared, take the time to reflect and write down what you are grateful for. As much as we love to cling to our fears, re-framing a little and focusing on gratitude will help you realize that life is not as bad as it seems. It will help you reset your thoughts and get you out of that endless cycle of negativity.