Fear is a dynamic, multifaceted emotion. When you learn to discern its messages and respond accordingly, you can be more happy and whole, even when you’re feeling it.
When you first think of fear, you may be reminded of feeling like you were in danger, for example, when walking in a dark alley at night, being in a social setting when a fight breaks out, or having a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a vicious or deadly creature. This type of fear warrants a response to get yourself out of the situation quickly, and it’s best to listen to that fight or flight feeling without question or delay.
But not every situation in which you feel fear deserves the same reaction. I’m thinking about the times when you were afraid to move forward through the unknowns in your life, you were worried about being able to pay the bills, or dreading going on that blind date. The centerpiece of those experiences of fear might be nausea, anxiety or some other form of internal upset.
There’s also fun and exhilaration, which can exist inside the fear. This can be experienced during a planned situation where you expect the fear, and you know it will be over soon, like the way you feel while watching a scary movie, riding a roller coaster, or going down a class 5 rapids in a kayak. The fear you feel when there is no threat to life or limb, also known as emotional fear, can feel just as powerful. So if fear in danger is saying ‘protect yourself’ and/or ‘get out of here,’ what’s the message from emotional fear and how does it serve you?
“When you are willing to experience discomfort, you give yourself the opportunity to get to a better place”~Valerie R Sheppard
One way to examine this is through this definition, which I heard sage and beautiful Jennifer Hough, master teacher and creator of The Wide Awakening Playground, share in a video recently: “Fear is a well-practiced protective mechanism from what doesn’t actually exist in reality.” In other words, you are potentially conjuring a story of an experience you think might happen in your future, based on what you don’t want to re-experience from your past. But it’s a story that hasn’t happened yet…and may never happen in fact. This is why the saying that fear is an acronym for the phrase “False Evidence Appearing Real” makes so much sense to so many people.
Yes, it’s true that sometimes, your fear can actually support you to take action in a more thoughtful way. Fear might support you to make more conscious choices, more carefully weigh your options, and minimize your downside risks. However, if you let the fear run you, rather than getting superiority over it (that’s self-mastery), your fear stops you in your tracks, slowing you down and holding you back — over, and over, and over again — when what you fear, is not actually present.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is feeling the fear and moving forward anyway. When you watch interviews with heroes or read their stories, it’s rare for them to say they felt no fear and that’s why they sprung into action. In fact, they felt the fear, but just didn’t let it prevent them from doing what they were being called to do in the moment.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or the things you achieve throughout your lifetime, you’ll find yourself face to face with your fear on more than one occasion. Here are my tips to help you keep your happy on as you take action in the face of whatever emotional fear might be talking to you.
Getting Superiority Over Fear
1. Determine what you are really afraid of.
In the midst of those stressful situations, your brain tends to trust the fear as absolute truth of what is happening in the here and now. This little bit of fear then grows into a worst case scenario that you visualize in great detail (this is the conjuring I mentioned above). The fear we picture is rarely the actual reality of the situation, and the worst case scenario rarely happens. Why? Because though the fear is unfolding in the here and now, the scenario you’re fearfully projecting is not. Getting clear on what you’re actually afraid of brings you into a more conscious awareness of where you are, and on what you’re focused.
For example, if you’re afraid of an upcoming meeting with your manager, you want to ask why? What’s the real reason for your discomfort? Is it because the last meeting didn’t go so well? Then look at what’s different about this time relative to last ime. If it’s because you always feel fearful when interacting with authority figures, explore when that feeling first got imprinted on you. Perhaps you had a tough encounter with a parent, teacher, clergy person or police officer when you were young, and you’ve never healed that wound. Regardless, knowing what the real issue is and where it came from is the first step in dealing with it.
2. Build a loving relationship with your fear.
Befriend your fear. It has protected you in a lot of situations throughout your life. Even if you’re not sure why you are feeling fear in the present moment or think that you don’t need it right now, you can experience it with acceptance and love rather than upset and resistance.
Emotional fear is not something to resist or suppress. In fact, it has a gift for you that is difficult, if not impossible, to receive until you are willing to be in a relationship with it. When you can shift into receiving fear as you speaking to yourself, you can learn what it’s trying to teach you, about you, for you, and as a result, your life can unfold at a higher vibration going forward.
3. Find at least one thing in the moment for which to be grateful.
Numerous scientific studies have shown that gratitude is one of the key contributors to feelings of overall happiness and well being. Sometimes when fear is trying to get your undivided attention, you can loosen its grip on you by focusing elsewhere. Even in a particularly trying or debilitating situation, there is something worthy of your gratitude. Perhaps it’s your strength or discernment, or that you have a friend or family member to call on. No matter how small that something might be, giving it your conscious attention can quiet the fear, giving you an opportunity to get to a superior position over it.
4. Remind yourself that “this too shall pass.”
Legend has it that a King centuries ago asked his wise counsel for a ring that would make him happy when he was sad. His counsel returned with a ring that read “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.” Nothing lasts forever, and that’s true of your fears as well. Even if you are aren’t actively learning to transform your fear responses, the emotional fear you feel in a moment will release as you live past that moment to experience what happens next.
Remembering to employ these tips will help you take control of how soon you get superiority so the fear doesn’t run you, or run you ragged.
Stay well and BE happy!
Valerie Sheppard is founder and CEO of The Heartly Center for Mindfulness and Self-Mastery. She gets rave reviews for her book, public speaking and coaching. You can learn more HERE.