“Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me.” ~Isabel Allende
I woke up with a knot at the pit of my stomach, yet again. For as long as I could remember, I carried this intangible lump inside me. It went with me everywhere.
I am fairly certain it woke up with me, and there was a small span of time when I was in the deepest of sleep when it took a break.
Terrified—that’s how I felt all the time. Muscles taut and butterflies in my stomach. I was a wreck, ready for a meltdown anytime. It was many years later that I could put a name to it. It was fear.
Through my teens and twenties, I tried to cope with fear of different kinds—fear of public speaking, fear of authority in school and at work, fear of displeasing someone, fear of saying “no,” fear of not being loved or appreciated, fear of my own shortcomings and their implications on my life…
The list was very long and I couldn’t articulate it then, which made life much harder.
Recognition of a problem is always the first step, and it was eluding me. Fear confused me because I could never point it out as that.
We are not taught how to recognize and deal with fear in schools. (I really wish we were.) It was merely a “physically uncomfortable feeling.” “One day I will figure out what the hell this is.” That’s all I could muster at that time.
Fear defined me. Omnipresent and overpowering, it was constantly present.
I never thought I could reach out for help. Approach my parents with a “Mom, Dad, I suffer from great fear—fear of everything”? Nah! And coming out to friends would make me look weak or not good enough. Not happening!
I often wondered if other people faced anything similar, or was it just me. It isolated me to a corner.
Then one day, I stood up from the corner. Fear had consumed far too much of my time and I was tired of running from it. And frankly, I didn’t know what else to do.
I started reading books on fear, watched any video I could find online on the topic, and journaling about my feelings. Devouring every piece of information I could find, I was ready to defeat it. Surprisingly, I started the process of understanding fear instead.
And then came the AHA moment—the realization that I don’t need to protect myself from fear; I just need to accept it and then let go.
It comforted me to know that it’s a universal phenomenon and that everybody, including the most successful people in the world, suffer from fear. I was not the only one after all. When fear came in, I knew it was normal to feel it, and the question then was: What am I going to do with it?
Fear hasn’t left me yet. It drops by every chance it gets. But it’s no longer an enemy. It’s now a sticky friend who needs to be skillfully managed.
Fear will never not be there, just like different experiences will always bring about the same gamut of emotions in us.
Fear is largely based on the truths we have told ourselves. It’s a direct outcome of historic data in our minds, making millions of permutations and combinations of stories that may have nothing to do with our lives.
One step that really helped in my journey was to question the underlying truth every time I experienced fear. A hundred percent of the time, I realized I completely made it up. I made up my “truths.”
Slowly and steadily, I started changing the building blocks in my mind. For example, if I don’t say my “yes” to my boss for one more piece of work, he will not shoot me!
Or, if I say “no” to my friend’s invitation, she will not hate me forever. (And even if she does, what’s the underlying truth there?)
These things are just not factual or realistic; they’re at best hypothetical. The trick is to be honest about the underlying data we harbor. Once that cat is out of the bag, fear is vulnerable.
What can we do?
Separate yourself from your fear.
The first big win is to recognize fear as a separate entity than us. This helps us with objectivity, which is precious in these situations.
Know that fear will always try to sneak in. That’s just what it does. How we respond to it is in our hands.
Study your fear.
Really study it. What are you feeling? What is fear threatening you with this time? Is it really true that this can happen? If it does happen, what will it really do to you? Can you deal with what will happen?
Connect with your soul.
As long as we are centered and grounded, our soul will guide us. All fear finds its genesis in the risk of losing our lives. When we are really connected to our soul, we realize how formless and indestructible our true selves are. And that sets us free.
How do we connect with our soul? Silence, prayer, and meditation are three tools that I bring into my days as much as I can. They help me ground and bring alignment into my life
Last but not the least, be amused.
Be amused by the heaviness it brings to our lives out of events that may be insignificant in the bigger scheme of things. Being late to a meeting, an uncomfortable conversation, failure of all kinds, they are never really as catastrophic as we make them out to be.
A more balanced perspective will guide us through those trying times when fear gets the better of us. Let’s understand fear better instead of letting it control us. Life is too short and too beautiful to give in.
Man on the edge of a cliff image via Shutterstock