Bring Fear Along with You
Challenges arrive like unordered packages at our front doors every day, from small difficulties to crushing encounters, and Fear is the delivery guy ringing our doorbell.
Being stressed is a part of the human experience; we’re often blocked, set back by circumstances, and overcome by defeat. Fear accompanies most of our overwhelm, and though it’s a feeling, it often seems as if it’s an entity of its own. Yet Fear is just one of our many emotional advisors on our daily treks through this sometimes daunting and unpredictable life journey. It’s an alarming voice to be sure, but it speaks words of warning that we need to hear.
To decrease stress and manage these encounters, we most certainly need bravery. But before we can access our courage, we’ve got to learn how to handle our fears. Often, we’re just innocently bopping along, going through our day, and suddenly a debilitating situation arises or bad news hits. Someone has hurt our feelings, or we discover we made an impactful mistake. Or worse, we find out a loved one is ill or injured. Fear suddenly pops its unsightly head out of the invisible backpack we’re carrying and shouts: “This is terrible!” “Watch out!” “Whoa, danger!” “Oh no, what will you do?!” Now we’re anxious or frantic. We’re stiff, stumped, saddened, immobilized, or maybe devastated.
We are not only afraid of what Fear is warning us about, we’re scared of Fear itself. We’ve trained ourselves to hear its voice as menacing, and since we often view it as our enemy, we cower under its shadow and are inclined to sprint away from its forceful shrieks or to raise our hands in fists to it, ready for combat. But is Fear really our adversary?
Fear: Friend or Foe?
Fear is the great immobilizer.
It doesn’t mean to be. It wants to be our helpful consultant, giving us useful signals that identify problems or dangers as we journey through our days and nights. It’s just so obnoxiously loud and menacing! Fear can become a friend, not a foe, if we choose to extend a hand and spend time with it. If we understand its origin, we can give Fear a break and view it in a new way.
Where does Fear come from? It’s connected to our reptilian brain, the ancient brain stem, from which we receive alerts to fight, flee, or figuratively curl up in a ball and feign death. In other words, when we operate reactively out of fear, we’re tempted to raise our voice, fight back, withdraw in self-protection, over-manage our situation, control it (or others), or ignore things, hoping they’ll go away. How do we unlisten to Fear’s noisy notifications?
To disengage from this vigilant aspect of our brains, we breathe. That’s right. It’s pretty simple. We breathe with the intent to do whatever is needed in the near future. But this moment, we’re breathing to regain composure and to anchor our footing. Conscious breathing is available to us, even under duress. It is ever present as a tool for putting distance between ourselves and Fear. So, the good news is that there is always a way out of any immobilized stuckness. When we heed Fear’s cautions, when we breathe and say, “I’m listening. I hear you. Let’s figure this out,” Fear feels reassured it’s done its job and slithers back down into our backpacks. Then, we can listen to the advice of our other inner guides: love, wisdom, and focus.
Where do those voices come from? Our inner Essence.
Our Essence is the source inside of us for calm and focus.
It’s our direct link to the wisdom and love that already reside within. It is our truest Self, and our innermost guide (see my blog post “Who Are You?”). Our Essence is tapped into something greater than ourselves, into Source, God, Nature, the Universe—call it what you like. It is the hub of our bravery, and it powers the inspiration we need to carry out our bravery. Our Essence is the energy that gives us life, and it lives in the Now. Therefore, it is rooted in presence, in freedom from fear, in relief from suffering. All we have to do to find our Essence in any moment is go inside, for there, we connect with this powerful, beautiful source of light: our inner being. It’s a part of us and wants to be in communication with us. Our Essence joins all of what we are together into one beautiful being. Our body, mind, heart, and intuition are all woven together by our Essence.
How do we connect with it? We access our Essence by focusing upon it, by breathing into it and out from it. But why take the time for that? Aren’t our instincts calling out for a quick response? Shouldn’t we just leap into action, immediately taking on whatever difficult circumstance has arrived? No, not necessarily. Only if there’s a fire, and we need to put the flames out with lightning speed.
When we react immediately, it’s often out of fear, and let’s remember this: Fear is connected to our primal, less intelligent reptilian brain, the part of our brain that keeps us alive but isn’t linked to wisdom. Wisdom and clarity will come in time from our Essence, which is bound directly to our hearts, bodies, and the part of our brains that can make intuitive, mindful, and clear choices.
Face and Embrace Fear
Fear will always react.
Let’s remember what it says to us: various versions of “no.” Fear never tells us what to do, it only tells us what not to do. Research shows that we are more afraid of the unknown than we are of actual physical pain, so when Fear barks out its concerns, it’s pointing out what it thinks we don’t know and telling us it’s scared of that unknown. When we face and embrace our fears, we are freed up to take brave, mindful initiative into unknown territory.
Once we’ve acknowledged Fear, we can listen to our Essence for answers. Our Essence has made friends with the unknown; it knows that change is inevitable. And our Essence offers us the power, strength and love during every fearful moment when we need bravery. As we do move forward, beyond that initial moment when Fear first calls out, the courage we need to do so arises from our Essence.
By carrying our fear with us, we find clarity. We can reach out for support or research our situation as we forge ahead. When we stuff Fear away or ignore it, it just rears its screeching head more fiercely later. When Fear doesn’t dominate us, we have motivated energy and can move into action—even with our doubts.
How Do We Actually Bring Fear along with us?
1) To bring Fear along with us in our imaginary backpacks, we start by deciding to believe that Fear comes in our service.
That Fear is on our side. That Fear is helpful. That we’d be in danger more often if Fear didn’t warn us. So, we make friends with Fear, becoming more comfortable with it. Besides, it’s here to stay. We let go of old beliefs about Fear and see it as a compadre. We move closer to it instead of away from it. We don’t fight it or resent it. We view Fear as a helpful advisor, a team member like all of our other feelings, and we retrain ourselves to stop being afraid of it. Just like a gruff guy with a tough exterior but a heart of mush, we gaze into the heart of Fear and know it has good intentions. We remind ourselves of these things again and again. Fear grew tough over time because thousands of years have molded it into a biological process and it’s in our genetic code now. Recognizing it as a companion woven into our DNA, we get to know our personal fears and what triggers them, becoming familiar with the varying tones and voices of our unique brand of Fear. Fear has tendencies as distinct as our personalities, and let’s be honest: it’s often like an overly dramatic acquaintance who initially turns us off but whom we realize might become a valuable confidante in our circle.
2) We train ourselves to breathe when we hear Fear ring the doorbell.
That way, in the middle of scary moments, we will take conscious, mindful breaths. The practice of frequent and consistent conscious breathing changes our perspective over time (see my “Be Brave Now” blog post). We become more capable of acting bravely even during the scariest times. Breathing through Fear builds our memory that Fear is simply our noisy friend. Our embracing Fear slowly emerges from our openness to it. We cultivate diligent receptivity, and we practice partnering with it. By breathing mindfully as often as we can remember to, we will more quickly recognize when Fear begins to get agitated. More observant, we decide what to do with a broader outlook, our conscious breath unfolding as a calming foundational force. We prevent Fear from taking hold of us by holding space for our fears. By connecting with our bodies and hearts, we slowly regain sovereignty and begin to think from our prefrontal lobes again. Powerful transformation has begun; thus, conscious breathing combined with partnership with Fear precipitates the level of control we need to be brave. Now less afraid of the danger Fear is warning us about, we’re more ready to take action.
We Want Control. We Can Only Control Ourselves.
Since what we truly want during times of terror, shock, or overwhelm is some sense of control, the best way to begin is to get out of our anxious, reactive minds and into our bodies and hearts via our senses.
After all, we can only control ourselves. We use our heightened awareness to breathe and come into presence: seeing with peripheral vision what’s around us in our immediate environment, hearing with our open hearts, and moving our bodies, walking, or standing up and rooting our feet into the ground beneath us. Placing both hands on our heart, we breathe again. Why? Does this seem unnatural? It may, but a distant memory of sweet soothing will ensue. Because touch is the magical, dependable healer. Our mothers held and rocked us. Research shows that to make sense of things, we’ve got to get back into our senses. We can put our arms around ourselves for a long hug, then raise them and stretch upward, connecting with the space surrounding us. Try it now, for grins. Even rock a bit and voice to aloud: “It’s going to be okay. I’m here for you.” This sparks hope. We long for peace again. Awakening our senses, our Essence will rise and speak the truth we need to hear more loudly than our fear, and from that place we can regain a sense of control and serenity. A mantra I often use is this: breathe into my Essence and embrace Fear.
These especially effective breathing and somatic practices help us remember we want to bring Fear along with us as an advisor. Doing so allows us to consciously address the painful situation at hand with greater calm and mindful insight. Breathing is gentle, and it brings a softness to our situation, which often helps.
We all know not to yell at a scared, crying, or screaming child, right? Instead, we gently soothe them with soft words or a tender touch. Try the same thing with Fear. Approach it calmly, as you would a terrified child, breathing through your own distress. Talk directly to it, as I mentioned above. Say nice things to Fear, with comforting words like: “Hey, it’s all right. I know you’re scared. This is really hard. We’ll take this on together. I’ve got you. We’ve got each other. I’ll figure this out.” Fear will sigh, feel validated, and quiet down. You can then listen to the other guiding voices from within you, from your true home and greatest source of insight: your Essence. You’ll find relief and will more easily access ideas about your next step.
We can act with bravery amidst painfully tough moments of crisis when we’ve practiced repeatedly during lesser difficulties.
Bravery requires training over time, so start wherever you are with the bravery you’ve got. Deliberately pack Fear in your imaginary backpack, and bring it along with you wherever you go. Access your Essence through the breath when you’re scared, and you’ll have the ability to move forward with grace and strength as you face everything you encounter. Be brave.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Rising Strong by Brené Brown