No matter how brave, strong or level-headed we are, sometimes we all get scared.
Life can take us on a rollercoaster ride full of highs and lows and twists and turns.
Even for those of us who enjoy unexpected thrills and challenges, it’s frightening to suddenly find ourselves heading for a deep plunge which can make us feel overwhelmed and out of control. Yet, it happens to all of us.
At these moments, it is important to remember that you are not alone in your experiences. This is a big part of our being human, nobody escapes it, not even enlightened monks and sages.
Our fears may revolve around our physical safety, particularly if we are not feeling well, living under difficult circumstances, or doing work that exposes us to hazardous conditions or unknown tasks.
Or, we may be experiencing financial troubles that are causing us to be fearful about making ends meet. We may also fear the loss of a loved one who is sick, or we may be scared of never finding someone special to spend our life with.
We may be scared to start at a new school, begin a different job, move to a new city, or meet new people.
Whatever our fears are, they are valid, and we do not need to feel ashamed or embarrassed that we are, at times, afraid.
Owning how we feel plays a big part in reducing painful feelings.
It may be comforting to know that everyone gets scared, and it is perfectly okay.
Sometimes just acknowledging our fears is enough to make us feel better. And while it sometimes takes a lot more to ease our mind, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that life can be scary at times.
Giving ourselves permission to be scared lets us move through our fears so we can let it go.
It also makes it alright to share our fears with trustworthy others.
Sharing our apprehensions with people we trust can make our fears less overwhelming because we are not letting them grow inside of us as pent up emotions that may then take on a life of its own and appear bigger than our objective reality.
Sharing our fears also can lighten our burden because we are not carrying our worries all by ourselves.
If we remind ourselves that we are not alone and reach out to others who are willing to listen without judgement, the burden or scary situation feels less frightening and we feel lighter.
But sometimes, even doing this may not be enough for some people. Many continue to worry about the situations in life that challenge them.
Our worries have a profound impact on our energy, on our stress levels, and on our overall health.
Worries also affect our experience of time and, ultimately, they diminish our enjoyment of life.
However, while it seems obvious that worry would trigger fears and add to our sense of feeling stressed, slowing down and facing a worry can actually relieve fear and stress.
When you’re worried your knee-jerk reaction is usually to speed up. Your focus is either on getting away from or trying to desperately resolve or address whatever is causing your concern. Both of these responses are usually very quick.
And the reality is that they are reactive and will increase, rather than decrease feelings of stress. Worries, like all thoughts, can be seen as clouds crossing the sky, they come and they go. It is our tendency to cling onto them, that makes them stay and grow in intensity.
On the other hand, if you try to run away from something that you’re feeling worried about, you are reinforcing the magnitude of its “scariness.”
Pema Chodron, who is a world-renowned female Buddhist monk based in the USA, tells this thought-provoking story: A monk is approaching a monastery that
is guarded by fierce dogs. As he draws closer the dogs come racing out, barking, growling, and baring their teeth. The monk is terrified and his first instinctive response is to turn and run. But he knows the dogs will be upon him in an instant.
So, instead, he pauses and takes a deep breath. Then he does something surprising. He runs towards the dogs. And the dogs stop in their tracks, turn, and run back, in the other direction.
What do you notice?
There are two key elements for you to contemplate and take from this story.
The first one is the deep breath. Notice that the monk chose to pause in the face of the approaching danger.
This is a small-but-powerful choice. When you make it, it immediately puts you in charge of yourself and your moment, even as everything in your body-mind may be shouting, “Run!”
Second is the choice to move towards, rather than away from the source of the fear or worry.
When you turn away from a fear, you give yourself the message that it is “too big” or “too scary” or “too hard” to deal with.
Turning towards it, you immediately let yourself know that it’s manageable. You may not have all the answers, but you’re taking charge, and that is very reassuring.
Yes, it really works…
Once you have taken a breath and taken charge, your mind is cleared and you are able to be much more creative in your problem-solving.
These two simple choices about how you use your time (in the briefest of moments) makes a huge difference in how we deal with all but especially worrying or scary situations.
Ask yourself the following questions the next time you are confronted with a difficult, stressful or scary situation:
What is my immediate response when I am confronted with a looming worry or a big fear?
How will I choose to use my time, body and mind, as I respond in the moment?
Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.