For years I've lived by the personal mantra, particularly in times of fear and stress -- crippling or otherwise -- feelings aren't facts. For me, it's a simple, clarifying yet true phrase that has seen me through a number of sticky, stressful, even painful moments. Fear can be one of the most crippling of all the emotions. It can paralyze and hinder progress or, when channeled, it can transform into courage.
Fear and stress also have bad raps. Sometimes it's a necessary evil to get to what we really want or need. In my adult life, I've made some difficult decisions that created stressful situations as byproducts. For example, I chose to end a marriage and become a single mother, I chose to eventually get remarried and introduce a stepfather to my two beautiful children, and I chose to make a career change to pursue something I was more passionate about. All of these things came with their share of sadness, stress, fear and tears, but what was on the the other side was joy, laughter, anticipation and excitement.
Between the "before" and "after" in all those situations, I did not lose my fear -- at least not initially. What I've come to understand is that courage isn't the absence of fear at all. It's taking an action or risk, making a move or decision in spite of it, and here are some of the tools that I found were handy:
1. Know this too shall pass: No situation or feeling is forever, not even fear, you just have to have the patience and persistence to wait it out.
2. Perspective is everything: Even before your circumstances change, your perspective might and that is a beautiful thing.
3. Just take the next right action: When it feels like there are a million things to accomplish and it's insurmountable, it's easy to become paralyzed, and that's often when an "all or nothing" mindset can sneak in and take over (example: well, doing that one thing won't fix the whole problem, so why do anything at all?). The fact is, a journey of 100 miles began with the first step, so when I feel overwhelmed and I start focusing on doing the best thing I can do that's right in front of me, I can stay on task, and pretty soon the little tasks start to add up.
4. Identify quantifiable evidence: Feelings may not be facts, but sometimes in moments of high stress or true despair they can be worse. What I try to do -- in moments that are less fraught -- is collect pieces of quantifiable evidence that combat the fear so I can have them in my back pocket. For example, if I fear I will be alone, I have letters and notes from my husband and children that say how much they love me; if the fear is about not being talented in a chosen field, perhaps keep a scrapbook of professional accomplishments.
5. Resist the urge to isolate: When I'm feeling bad, I always want to hibernate. It makes sense... facing the world is the last thing I want to do when I feel like the word "LOSER" is written across my face. The truth is, isolation feeds desperation and only digs the hole deeper. Support systems are really important when getting through moments of stress as is continuing to feel like a citizen of the world.
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