Fear - and its effect on our bodies / minds - can be incredibly useful. If walking through the woods of Alaska, for example, fear can heighten one’s senses to better notice signs of an approaching bear. This is a great evolutionary trait, and we surely appreciate this response during the ~5% of our lives where we are in a legitimately dangerous situation. The other 95% of the time, however, fear can be truly crippling.
So how do you navigate fear in your daily life? How do you know when to listen and when to shut that fear down? And what are some strategies for that shut down? Keep reading for some insight on these matters.
The first step in working with fear is understanding that it is part of many experiences. We don’t navigate fear by denying it or pushing it away, but rather by acknowledging and accepting its presence, and then choosing how to act from there.
My favorite analogy of working with fear is imagining fear as a person you are with on a road trip. Fear is in the car with you, but you can decide how much power it has. Does fear sit behind the driver’s seat? Does it sit passenger, controlling the music and helping navigate the roads? Or does fear sit in the back without any power aside from its own presence?
We might not be able to control the presence of fear, but we can control how much power we grant it.
Before we get too far into this, it’s worth noting that some issues / situations very much warrant fear, and in those situations fear really should help make decisions. If you live in a hostile household or work in a hostile environment, your fear acts as a pressure urging you out of that situation. In these contexts, to set your fear aside would be to deny your reality which ultimately results in you breaking trust with yourself. So start by observing your situation and noting whether the fear means “leave the situation” or whether it is merely an obstacle to something that you’d like to more healthily engage with. If you’ve identified your fear as unnecessary, then you’re ready to move to the next step.
In a moment of fear, we can find our minds running and our stress levels elevating. It can often help to zoom out a bit and gain perspective. One way to do this is by asking yourself, “What is truly the worst that could happen?”
For example, maybe you’re preparing to present at a work conference. What is the worst that could happen? Well, maybe you don’t quite get your point across or you fumble around on the stage and embarrass yourself. In the big picture of life, does that really matter? You’re a competent person. You’ll recover. And hopefully by thinking through this worst case scenario you can help yourself see how big the world is - how small your worries really are - and step into the moment with a little more confidence.
One thing I want to mention, though, is the difference between: 1) logically assessing the worst case scenario, and 2) catastrophizing. In the first, you think pragmatically about what could potentially go poorly, while in the second you allow your imagination to predict far beyond the realm of possibility. Catastrophizing the presentation example might look like, “Well, I could get on stage and accidentally say something offensive and then someone in the crowd might start throwing things at me and then everyone might excite into a riot and then my boss would fire me for starting that and then the crowd could find out where I live and go vandalize my house…”
You can see the spiraling nature of such thought processes. If you’ve built that thinking pattern into your life, though, it might be hard to see clearly and thereby change. Start by simply noticing your fear, checking it’s realness, and then observing where your mind goes next. Does it spiral and catastrophize? If so, can you mindfully direct it to more logically assess the situation?
Start by noting the seriousness of the fear, and then allocate power accordingly. And throughout the whole practice, remember to treat yourself with kindness, compassion, and sincerity. No matter how serious or self-made the fear is, your experience of it is entirely valid.
Brooke is a contributing author for Tada Rugs. Tada Rugs is a 5x7 yoga mat disguised as an artistic area rug that you never have to put away. Tada is short for tadasana, or mountain pose, and our own backyard in the San Juan Mountains of Durango, Colorado is where we find our inspiration. Check out our new designs, enter for a chance to win a new Tada Rug, and be sure to follow us for deals and insider specials! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, or contact us through our website! Tie a room together and bring your practice home.
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