Fear can be a healthy feeling. It can even save your life.
That might sound like an oxymoron. But is it? Most of us have been told that fear is a bad thing. Well I’m going to show you it’s not.
First let’s talk about what fear is.
Fear is a psychological or physical reaction to a perceived threat whether the threat is real or imagined.
Envision yourself alone in a house in the middle of the night. You hear the windows rattling. It can be the wind, you think, or perhaps someone trying to break in. Your heart starts to race, your palms sweat. Your first instinct might be to lock yourself in the bedroom or even hide under the blanket. Your other choice is to go and check out the noise.
If you do the latter and spot someone trying to enter your home, you call the police, and hopefully they will arrive before you have to confront the intruder face to face inside. In this case, your reaction to fear was a healthy one, and it either saved your life or stopped you from losing property and valuables to a thief.
So, feeling the fear and acting accordingly fit the moment. If you had felt no fear, you might have stayed put and been one more statistic in the history of crime.
The problem with fear is that we often allow it to paralyze us from taking action.
For example, you’re asked to speak in front of a large audience. Public speaking has been listed as one of the top most feared activities, next to moving. So, you turn down the opportunity, or if you accept, fear makes you stumble over your words.
During my life, I’ve had my share of “being afraid.” Let me tell my most horrifying experience. It was my first night in this country as a refugee—a teenager with no money or family except for a younger brother. We didn’t know where we were (we were told it was a camp) or where we were going to end up. As I lay on an army cot staring at the ceiling, I felt my throat constricting, my body turning to ice and my heart beating down the minutes to my death. This was the fear of all fears!
I started to hyperventilate, and an instinctual need to save myself took over. I visualized fear as a cloud-like shape made of air, and with slow breaths, I started to embrace that cloud, until I squeezed all the air out and was hugging myself. I rocked back and forth then, my arms tight around my body, and silently repeated, “All’s well. I’m alive. I’m alive.”
That exercise saved me from a full asthma attack, and perhaps closing myself to the “adventures” that this new, adopted country held for me.
The idea of using the breath and visualization to confront your fears or control your body’s physical reaction is not something I invented. Yoga aficionados have been using it for years to achieve a calm, meditative state.
What was unusual about my situation was that I had not learned or even heard of that technique at the time. It was a desperate reaction to a desperate situation. When you’re sinking, you swim. I chose not only to swim, but learned how to in the process.
This is a practice I’ve used many times when “feeling afraid.” I’ve even used it with my piano students. Slow breathing and visualization can help a student’s nerves and improve his playing.
So, how do we live with this Fear Factor?
The first thing is to ensure the cause of your fear is not a real threat, as is the case with the “robber” trying to break in.
Regardless of the cause, you must do what? Act!
Don‘t let fear paralyze you. Slow breathing and visualization would not make the thief go away. In this case the appropriate action was to call the police.
However, if fear is stopping you from starting or finishing a book because you’re afraid it’s not any good, or that no one will read it, use slow breathing and visualization to get you unstuck. You may need to get a mentor or coach to teach you how.
If so, do it. Do not let fear stop you from writing that book or accepting a speaking engagement or taking a new, more challenging job.
We need to learn not how to eliminate fear from lives, but how to use it in appropriate ways.
How about you? How do you handle your fears?