Fear is our body’s instinctual response to potential danger and is a natural part of life. In the best of circumstances, our fears can save our lives, spur us into action and even energize us. In the worst of circumstances, fears can make us sick, cause mental health issues and even physically harm us. In other words, fear can be a blessing or a curse.
When we’re walking down a dark alley and hear the sounds of footsteps behind us, fear is gift that can keep us alive. It alerts us to danger and prepares our bodies for emergencies so we can save ourselves (or others). Fear is vital for our survival as a species. It kicks our bodies into high gear and at times allows us to do superhuman feats to keep us safe. Fear can also be a gift in less threatening situations such as exams, public speaking or project deadlines. If the fear is moderate rather than debilitating, then the fear of failing a test, bombing a speech or missing a deadline can motivate us into action and help us to do a good job.
If left unchecked, however, fear can take its toll on our bodies both mentally and physically. When we get worked up about a situation that goes way beyond the actual threat, our fear becomes extreme. In response to this extreme thinking, we often become anxious, begin to obsess, imagine the worst-case scenario and then do anything in our power to avoid that thing from happening—even though it may never happen in the first place.
Too often we treat our fears as though they’re a reality.
- If we’re in a miserable relationship, we allow the fear of an angry reaction to keep us from setting limits or having a difficult conversation.
- If we’ve set limits in a relationship, yet no change has occurred, we allow the fear of a nasty divorce keep us trapped in a harmful relationship.
- If we’re being overworked, under paid and treated poorly at work, we allow our fear of losing the job to stop us from asking for a raise or addressing the poor work conditions.
- If we have a dream that requires risk, we allow the risk of failure to stop us from taking steps to succeed.
There are countless ways that we allow fear to stop us in our tracks and to hold us back in life. Although some of these fears are warranted, the truth is that most fears are exaggerated and unlikely to come true with the intensity that we imagine them. And if our fears may come true exactly as we imagined, then all we can do is do the best we can to handle it and then let go:
- If you’re afraid of an ugly divorce, do everything on your end to make sure you don’t get ugly in the process while also taking care of yourself.
- If you’re afraid of losing a job, first slow down and see whether or not that fear is realistic or unlikely. If it’s realistic, perhaps you have a back up plan before you speak to your boss. If it’s unlikely you’ll be fired: breathe, stay steady and speak your truth with a grounded, powerful strength.
The bottom line is we want to allow fear to do the job it was meant to do—save us. We don’t want to give fear the power to harm our lives. When we start ruminating about our fears and taking them to this exaggerated, unhealthy place, we keep ourselves trapped in self-defeating patterns. Remember that fear is often just a perceived threat about a possible future danger. It is not a predetermined outcome for your future: “Just because you think it, doesn’t make it so.”
Challenge: Manage your fears. Don’t allow them to keep you in a straight jacket. Use your fears as reminders to proceed with caution, not as a warning to stop in your tracks.