How to Keep Moving Through Fear

By Andrew Lightheart

You know the kind of fear that makes you put things off, that means you don’t pick up the phone, send the email, have the conversation? The mild-to-medium dread that I, for one, feel regularly throughout the day? That’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the kind of anxiety that turns into slippery avoidance, that makes your mind slide over the thing to do and, oh look, another day, another week has gone by and you haven’t quite gotten around to it.

Well, there are some things you can do about it, I reckon.

First we’ll look at what I don’t think works, then at what I think does.

Here’s what I notice about fear.

Fear clenches.
Fear freezes.
Sometimes fear makes us turn away and not look.
Sometimes it makes us unable to look away, even a little.

I’m not a fan, however, of forcing yourself to “face” your fear. Pushing against fear can just increase the adrenaline, which decreases our ability to think clearly. Plus: creating meta-fear? Perhaps not quite what we’re looking for.

I’m not a fan of wishing it away, either. I’ve been through my positive-thinking-rose-quartz-affirmation years, and I think, for me, it all just papered over the cracks.

However however.

We have to be able to take some kind of action.

So: a middle way.

I think we can find space inside of fear, find some way to move. Here are some thoughts about how to get around fear without facing it, but without avoiding it. How to glance at your fears, as it were. All learned on the job, you know. No theory here, just the slow lessons of real experience…

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Fear clenches your body. So unclench your body. I mean this quite literally. Notice particularly your jaw, your eyes, your nose, your shoulders. Your hands. The more relaxed you are mentally, the more relaxed your body is. Vice versa, same same. To some extent. Anyway, unclench! No, really. Now.

Fear clenches your mind. So unclench your mind. Fear comes from a part of you thinking something bad is going to happen. The mind can clench around that certainty.

First off, what is that part scared of? Sometimes just seeing what it thinks is going to happen is enough to shift things. “I will be laughed off the internet!” “They are going to make me bankrupt!” “He’s going to be so furious he’s going to leave me!” “I’m going to forget everything and then everyone will laugh in distorted close-up!”

Really?

Really really?

To unclench around that single outcome, I see if I can find five possible outcomes to the situation.

I call it “Find Five.” I know, right?

I try and make one nightmarishly awful, one dreamily great, one mildly crap, one mildly good and one unexpected but life-altering (“Just having this conversation gives me an epiphany…”) “Possible” is important here. “Probable,” not so much.

Reminding your clench-y mind that, actually, it doesn’t know what is going to happen is A Good Thing.

Fear puts you in a dream. Wake up. The thing you’re afraid of is almost never actually happening right now. The marvellous Byron Katie says that reality is always kinder than our thoughts about it. One of the ramifications of that is that the scary thing normally happens between zero and one times, whereas we make it happen in our heads between nine and a gazillion times. Sometimes it’s so strong we don’t even realise we’re doing it.

My advice? Look around you. What can you see? What can you see close to you? What can you see farther away? What can you hear? Close to you, farther away?

Look! See! Right this moment, it’s okay, right?

(This is not a full solution, but it’s saved me at times, as first aid.)

Fear narrows your focus. So widen your focus. Sometimes fear makes me a bit tunnel-visioned, like my predator eyes go into super-focused-on-the-mouse mode. In addition to seeing and hearing what’s around you, put some attention on your peripheral vision. Widen your focus. Also, listen like your ears are about nine inches away from your head.

Did you just take a deep breath? Me too. This almost always makes me breath in and out deeper than I was. More waking up, see?

Fear wants you to freeze. So find a tiny action. When I’m totally stuck, I make a list of tiny, tiny actions. For example, there’s a part of me that gets scared about finance admin. So I end up procrastinating invoices, which, hello, has ramifications for my business.

Or did. Until I made a protocol. (That word comes from my medically trained husband. A protocol, apparently, is a clear list of steps to take in a certain circumstance.)

My protocol is a text doc called Invoice Steps. It goes: Open invoice tracker. Open invoice template. Enter new invoice number in invoice tracker. Save template as invoice number…

And so on.

Tiny, tiny, tiny steps.

Each one: not so scary.

Sometimes you gotta drive along that dark road just looking at what you can see in the headlights.

Or something.

Fear wants secrecy. So get someone to hold your hand. I got into some financial trouble when I was younger. I remember my friend Madeleine opening letters from the bank for me. That one’s a statement, that one’s a statement. Okay, that one’s a letter. I used to dread DREADohmygodi’mgoingtodieDREAD speaking to a debtor to talk about payment plans. I used to get Stuart to sit with me and just be there while I spoke to them. Sometimes literally holding my hand. Then he would sit with me while I cried with relief.

But it got me to take action. And it doesn’t matter if this would be a a small thing for someone else. We’ve all got different strengths. Refunds? Pfff. Forms? Puke. This is big, for you, right now. It’s alright.

So get yourself some support. Organise to speak to someone, someone you can go “Blearugarrrararralll” to beforehand. And someone to hear you blart afterwards. Give yourself some time to build up to it and some time to come down from it.

Sidebar: I forget sometimes. I forget what to do, what works. I forget, for example, to make a list of tiny steps. So I asked my close friend, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, to remind me: tiny steps.

What works for you? Have you ever had a better time at what you’re doing? What did you do? Could you do that again? Can you ask someone to help you remember to do that?

Bottom line: Darling, we all get scared. Of big things and small things. You do not have to stop being scared. It’s okay to be scared. But fear wants us to freeze. Good thing is, it’s just a feeling, and you can Take Steps.

Widen your focus.

Unclench.

And most importantly:

Keep.

Moving.

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Image by Flickr user Nebojsa Mladjenovic, used under a Creative Commons license.


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