Fear is a normal, life saving fight or flight response, so don’t beat yourself up for being afraid. This is a brilliant, visceral short-term strategy for the mind and body. All systems are on high alert and we’re ready to do what it takes, no matter what.
However, this is not for the long term, consistent stress we have with modern living. If you live in fear, you must stop it now. It will take down your mental, emotional and physical health, slowly destroying your immune system. So, “feel the fear”, as they say, but find a way to establish whether you are safe. If not, get to safety. If you are safe in this moment, think about reduction strategies.
The familiar “fight or flight” response is actually made up of three parts – fight, flee or freeze. This is a strategy for some animals in nature, playing dead so that the beast will pass them by. In our minds, this can also happen, but generally with a poor outcome. The problem is that when we are frozen with fear we cannot be creative and come up with resourceful solutions. There is no innovation in our thought process, and we will usually make poor decisions out of fear.
Tackling the scary monster is difficult at every age and circumstance. Some strategies follow here.
1. Better the devil you know…
Often the uncertainty of a scenario is the most frightening thing. Just naming the fear takes the Bogey man down a few notches.
Have you ever watched how a scary movie gets made? It’s pretty hokey when you take out the scary music and jarring sound effects. And then when you see how the scenes are chopped up and sewn back together, the whole mystery is gone. (Don’t do this if you love scary movies).
Name and identify the fear, writing down exactly what it is you’re afraid of. Some of its power will be gone instantly and you have a tangible problem to work with.
Sometimes the devil you know is the one you put up with, no matter how awful, because the devil you don’t know is even more scary. Same applies for this. Don’t put up with this familiar devil. Explore the one you don’t know. That one might just be the answer you’re looking for.
2. Worst case scenario
We get stuck in an undefined but terrible outcome. Sit somewhere safe and comfortable and imagine how this problem could go. If you see a disaster waiting, ask how you would handle it, if that really came true. Would you make changes to your current path? Could you avert the outcome? See if you can imagine another, different terrible outcome. What then? See if you can imagine averting the consequences and arriving safely at a good conclusion.
See if you can bring down the magnitude of the problem. You’ve already looked at the worst case scenario. Now see how it stacks up to other areas in your life, to other people’s problems, or to other problems you’ve solved in the past. This might indeed be the biggest challenge you’ve faced. Go back over past successes and examine how you got to the positive outcome. Congratulate yourself on those less important decisions and see them as foundation-building for this whopper.
You can probably do it, you know.
Again, it’s the unknown we fear the most.
So go on a fact-finding mission and while you keep this beast at the door, and think theoretically before you commit to the fight. Find out (theoretically) what it will take and what the likely outcome of each possible strategy will be. You don’t have to do anything yet, but you will be stripping away the unknown. Having an exit strategy will serve you in two ways; you will know how to get out, and it can make staying easier because your bags are already packed.
5. How to eat an elephant
I’m sure you’ve heard this. It’s one bite at a time.
So chunk down the problem into sections, or stages of solving, or if it’s completely overwhelming, just one little thing you can do, in any order, to get towards the answer. Then take another bite. Chew and swallow.
As you draw closer to the solution, with baby steps, some of the fear will have dissipated. That’s the biggest hurdle. Then you can take larger steps and maybe create an orderly plan to get you the rest of the way. Suddenly, it’s not so much a terrifying situation but more of a problem that you’re on the way to solving, with a plan, some steps to get you there, and the end goal in sight.