Do any of these situations sound familiar?
-You want to do well on your presentation, but as soon as you get up in front of the room, you start to panic and your mind goes blank.
-You have a new idea you want to pitch to your boss, but the next time you get the chance, your heart begins to race, you clam up, and the idea never sees the light of day.
-You’re presented with two amazing opportunities: one that will advance your career, and another that will allow you to explore the world. While you “know” deep inside that either option would be great, you’re scared of making the wrong choice, and feel paralyzed.
If you’re anything like me (or anyone else in the world for that matter), you’ve seen these many faces of fear before. In fact, fear is a major struggle many of my clients face. Fear is a contributor to depression, anxiety, and feeling paralyzed. It can hold you back from taking risks and keeps you from living a full life. Luckily, it’s possible to live fully even with your fear.
In this article, you’ll learn more about fear, why it exists, how to tap into its wisdom, and how to reduce it so it’s not taking over your life.
Fear Makes You Human
Fear is something every human on this planet feels. Our nervous systems are wired to feel fear to protect us from danger by helping us avoid or prepare for tough situations. While fear is uncomfortable and holds you back from many important things, if you recognize that your fear is always trying to help you (even if it actually has the opposite effect), this can soften fear’s iron grip on you.
Why Trying To Escape Fear Never Works
Almost as common as the feeling of fear is the desire to escape it. We generally tend to want to run away from it, suppress it, mask it, or force it to go away. While it makes sense to want to escape something that feels so uncomfortable, this never works. Trying to escape it actually makes it stronger!
What If Fear Was Your Friend?
Developing a positive relationship with your fear can actually help you feel calmer and even wiser.
I’m going to reframe fear not as your foe, but as your friend. Your fear is an important message from your body trying to alert you that something is wrong. Sometimes it’s a false alarm. Other times, it isn’t. Often, your fear carries wisdom within it, and it can actually help you make good decisions if you slow down and listen.
Consider, for example, the fear that kicks up when you meet someone who doesn’t seem trustworthy, or the fear that keeps tapping you on the shoulder to remind you to put money in a savings account. If you ignore this, you miss out on its wisdom, and the fear usually keeps coming back!
From Foe to Friend in 6 Simple Steps
The exercise below was inspired by Internal Family Systems, which is the form of therapy I am trained in and most like to use with clients. It will help you speak to your fear so that you can make friends with it, listen to its messages, and help it calm down. This exercise can be done through writing, visualization, or a combination of both.
While you are doing this, see if you can respond with compassion to your fear’s responses, like you’re having a conversation with someone you care about through writing. To tap into your compassion, it can be helpful to imagine your fear like a child or animal who needs love. Try not to give it advice or tell it to stop being afraid. Often, if you do this it comes back stronger!
1. Locate the fear in your body. If it’s not present in the moment, think of a situation that makes the fear come up.
2. Visualize it. Once you see it, open your heart towards it, recognizing that it is likely just trying to help you. Set the intention to give it space to process. You can also ask it what its name is, or give it a name.
3. Talk to it. Ask it to tell you about itself and what it’s experiencing. You can also ask it what it’s afraid of, and why it’s struggling so much. Keep your heart open, and don’t judge. Just listen.
4. Offer support. Ask it if it needs anything from you right now, like kindness, reassurance, space, etcetera, and give this to the fear.
5. Turn your fear into your friend. Ask your fear if it needs anything from you going forward to feel taken care of, or to have its fears calmed. This could be something like reassurance, or it could be doing practical tasks such as double-checking logistical things. Sometimes, your fear is actually there to give you an important message!
6. Schedule dates with your fear. As you move forward, if you find your fear is taking up too much mental space throughout the day, schedule a time every day where you will do this exercise with your fear. Ask your fear to wait until its scheduled 30 minutes to talk to you, so you can go about your the rest of your day without being distracted.
This is something you can do formally or informally throughout the day, when you have space, as the fear comes up. See if you can reframe the times when fear shows up as an opportunity to get to know a part of your internal counsel. This helps you turn one of your biggest foes into one of your strongest guides, and helps you live in inner harmony!
If you found this exercise helpful, you would be a great candidate for Internal Family Systems therapy. IFS helps you speak with the different parts of you that make you, “you,” so you can feel more at peace, more centered, and more naturally loving to yourself and others.
It helps you realize that even parts of you that are afraid, anxious, emotional, or depressed are not so scary, and helps you tap into the strengths of these parts, without letting them take over your life. Doing IFS therapy with a trained IFS therapist can help you go even deeper than this to get to the root of the fear, and let go of any burdens you may be carrying.
I am a trained Internal Family Systems therapist, and I practice in St. Louis, MO. I also serve clients who live in Illinois or Missouri online. If you want to go deeper with this process, I would love to help you. Please schedule a free 20-minute consult with me if you feel called to.