Confronting your fears
What can we do when something happens in our lives that causes us to be very afraid?
Certain events can completely change our status quo or even turn our lives upside down.
A divorce or separation from your loved one, an upcoming operation, the thought of being fired or quitting your stressful job, asking someone for forgiveness, speaking your mind to a spouse or boss, getting ready to move to a new place or country; these all create different fears and anxieties.
What do you do about them? How do you act when fear literally paralyses you? How do you fall asleep at night when you are frightened and alone?
When we cannot see a way out of a difficult situation, it seems like we are walking through a dark tunnel.
We feel the walls in order to move forward, taking tiny, uncertain steps, and we cannot see the light ahead.
Or, we behave like ostriches, hiding our heads in the sand. Often, we postpone making an important decision for months or even years because of fear.
When I recognise a fear, I look it straight in its ugly face.
Then I learn and understand what I can do about it in order to overcome it.
I don’t want it to dominate me; I want to defeat it.
It is crucial to take control of fear and make a decision, even a difficult or painful one, and then take action.
What exactly do I do?
I use a simple but powerful exercise tool called “Fear Setting” that was created by Tim Ferris, an American entrepreneur and bestselling author.
To begin, I write down my fear and the most terrible and unpleasant things that I can imagine might happen; I describe the worst-case scenarios. And I prescribe a remedy.
Definition, prevention and remedy.
• Define? — ?What are the worst things that could happen?
• Prevent? — ?How do I prevent each from happening?
• Repair? — ?If the worst happens, how can I fix it?
For example, it was very scary for me to lose my hair during chemotherapy.
I wrote down my fears: everyone will look at me and feel sorry for me, and I do not like to feel weak.
My self-esteem will drop to zero, and I will look ugly and sick. The worst thing that can happen, is my husband will change his attitude towards me.
He will no longer find me attractive and our love will fade. (We were still newlyweds, and had been married for only three weeks.)
After I defined my fears, I began to think and prescribe in detail, what to do to prevent them from happening, or at least minimise the consequences.
Define: Everyone will look at me and feel sorry for me.
Prevent: I will buy a beautiful wig, put on an exotic turban or wear a stylish wide-brimmed hat.
I will walk with my head held high.
Define: My self-esteem will plummet.
Repair: I will write articles and hold seminars on how to cope with these difficult times.
Define: I will look ugly and sick.
Prevent: I will use more make-up. I will smile and laugh more often.
Define: My husband’s attitude towards me will change.
Repair: I realised I could only share with him this fear.
When I told him how I felt, he hugged me, kissed me, and assured me nothing would change.
He was wrong about this. As we went through this terrible process, our love for each other deepened.
After this, I wrote a list of the possible benefits if my outcome was successful:
I will be alive, I will be stronger and more confident, I will understand what true love is.
When I had everything written down on a piece of paper, my fears diminished because I had a plan of action.
It was an exercise in control. I turned to logic and reason to tame my emotions — step by step. Of course, I was still afraid, but I had a plan and this opened a door to optimism that had been locked by my anxiety.
It was an effort at self-empowerment, and it worked.
I felt I was doing something rather than just reacting.
The interesting thing is that I managed to keep most of my hair and my worst-case scenarios did not happen.
“In our imagination, we suffer more often than we really do,” said the Greek philosopher, Seneca, long ago.
This is not always the case, but it is far better to wrestle with our fears than be paralysed by anxiety.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com