Last week I got a call from a woman in tears who confessed that she was incapable of completing even simple tasks anymore, like phoning a sick friend. She then said, "I'm paralyzed by fear."
My heart went out to her. Obviously she was in a lot of pain.
Sometimes it's easy to look at people who are successful or brave and feel like they must be cut from a different cloth. They must have mastered fear and no longer have it.
We compare ourselves and feel woefully inadequate. Then we can think things like, "That person is so unlike me. I'm just a big scardey cat, afraid all the time."
I knew this woman felt like she was alone in her suffering. So I resolved to support her just as I had been helped years earlier to walk through my own fear.
About twelve years ago, I was a martial arts student, preparing for an upcoming rank test in Tae Kwon Do. This meant I'd have to break a board. I never felt terribly confident in sports and saw myself as clumsy and awkward. I was slowly working myself into a panic about performing.
Not only would I forget the moves for the form I was required to do but I'd get hurt or worse. I'd make a fool out of myself and feel embarrassed in front of the other students, my teachers and family. Needing encouragement, I finally went to my master.
He said, "Courage isn't the absence of fear. It's not that people who are brave aren't afraid. We're all scared. It's just about how we manage that fear. Does it prevent us from doing what we want or do we gently put it aside and allow it to be a fellow traveler?"
I loved this idea of managing fear. That felt attainable, real. I couldn't imagine banishing fear forever because that seemed impossible. But I could envision managing it.
After all, fear is part of the human response. It's helped keep us alive for thousands of years.
The problem only arises when fear gets out of control, almost like it metastasizes and wants to consume us. We can become paralyzed by fear, incapable of taking action. Just like the woman who had called me.
When fear comes in that strongly, sometimes we need clarity, another voice to help us separate from it. And to remember that it's just an emotion. No matter how all consuming it can feel, it is just that, a feeling.
So, when you're in that fear place, here are three simple ways to manage it:
1. Breathe and remind yourself that what you are experiencing is just a feeling, an emotion. Fear is NOT who you are.
2. Acknowledge it. When we try to push fear away, we just make it stronger. Recognize it's there. Thank it for sharing and then tell it that you're going to put it aside for now and do _____________ (make that phone call, complete the paperwork, find out about the diagnosis) anyway.
3. Ask for help. This can come in many forms - a friend, partner, counselor, coach or in prayer. Sometimes during meditation I will confess: "I'm scared of _________. Help me." Amazingly I always get relief, support, love and guidance.
It's true that we are all afraid. We're hard wired that way but the good news is it doesn't have to rule our lives.
We can control fear and when we do, we find that our lives are more exciting, and fulfilling. We feel more empowered, supported, guided and present. Enjoy your life more by allowing fear to be your fellow traveler instead of the boss.
Shakti Sutriasa is the Founder of DecideDifferently.com, a personal development company committed to empowering people to live more connected and fulfilled lives through coaching, counseling and workshops. Shakti is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has an MA in Education.