Life, Travel

The Thing About Fear – Acknowledging the Fears that Stop Us

Fear. There is a lot of fear in the world right now surrounding Covid-19. There are direct fears related to the illness itself, as well as fears that have arisen as a by-product of the pandemic. The economy. Jobs. People’s mental health and emotional well-being. Education. Toilet paper, yeast, and hair cuts. And the list of fears goes on. It can feel like we are trapped in a hamster wheel of fear with no apparent way to escape.

In thinking about these fears, I started thinking about the other fears that we face throughout our lives, and the ways that those fears can impact our lives. Some fears are big, and life changing in big, immediately apparent ways. Others are small, and we can learn how to move past them in a relatively short amount of time. Most fall somewhere in between. And sometimes it’s the fears that are easy to overlook, or easiest to justify, that have the greatest potential to keep us from moving forward.

Fear is a natural response to something that we see as dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. At it’s most basic, fear is an emotion that exists to keep us safe. It’s what tells us that we should be careful near that cliff, and that we shouldn’t get too close to that bear. But I think that sometimes fear gets it wrong. Our fears don’t always tell the whole truth. Sometimes our fear overacts to the situation. And sometimes our fears tell outright lies.

How do you define “Safe”

Sarah Rhea Werner, the host of the Write Now podcast has a recent episode about fear that I found to be very helpful. In this episode, she passes along information and advice about fear that she received. She talks about fear being a response intended to keep us safe, but she suggests that sometimes the trouble comes from the way in which our fear defines “safe.” Sometimes fear defines safe as comfortable.

Writing that blog post. Starting that Podcast. Going out for that promotion. Pursuing your “big” dream. These are all things that require us to move out of our comfort zone. They require us to face risks and yes, they can cause us to face the potential of pain. But these things do not typically put us at risk of actual harm. (I acknowledge that there are situations where these things might put us at risk of harm and still be good things, but I am going to focus on the general here).

The risks we face in these situations are more along the lines of the risk of failure. Or of being criticized, or ridiculed. There are risks in opening ourselves up and being vulnerable. There is risk in stepping out of our comfort zone to pursue the thing that simultaneously excites and terrifies us. Chances are that writing that blog post is not going to cause me actual harm. But our fear wants to keep us safe and comfortable. And that means sticking with what we know.

This type of fear is easy to give in to and accept. Because of that, these fears have a great deal of potential to hold us back and stop us from trying new things. And here’s the thing. Sometimes when fear stops us from doing something, it can actually cause us pain or lead to us being hurt in a different way. Fear of stepping out in relationships can save us from being hurt by other people, but can cause us loneliness and sadness.

I have let fear stop me from doing many things over the course of my life. Fear has stopped me from talking to people I wanted to meet. It has stopped me from going out for the worship team at my church. It has stopped me from applying to jobs that I wanted and was qualified for, but that felt too big and scary.

Fear has stopped me from pursuing my writing dreams. I am afraid of failing. I am afraid that people won’t like what I create. I am afraid that I’m actually a terrible writer. I am afraid that it will be hard, and that I’ll give up. And if I’m going to give up eventually anyway… why bother even starting? I also fear that it will work out. What if I succeed? Success brings with it a whole new level and category of fear. It is much easier to stay within my comfort zone.

The Comfort Zone

As much as I might wish otherwise, I have choosen to stay within my comfort zone, and let fear stop me from doing things, on many occasions. The majority of risks that we face in this zone are ones that are already known. We can handle them. They don’t stretch us, they don’t grow us. They leave us exactly where we are. There’s a reason it’s called the comfort zone.

But consider this. Our comfort zone is not static. It’s not surrounded by an impenetrable stone wall. It can, and should, change and grow as we move through life. If a baby stayed within its comfort zone, it would never move to solid foods, never learn to walk, or talk, or play. It would lie in one place forever. As we grow and try new things, our comfort zone can expand to incorporate that new thing.

Not everything we try becomes part of our comfort zone. Some things will always scare us, and we will decide they’re not for us. At some point in my childhood, trampolines moved outside of my comfort zone. I don’t like jumping on them, and I especially don’t like watching others jump on them. I can’t imagine that they will ever become part of my comfort zone. And that’s okay. We don’t have to be comfortable with everything. But sometimes we step out despite our fear and the sky doesn’t fall. So we try it again. And again. And eventually we can’t remember why we were afraid of it in the first place. We might discover new fears related to the original thing, but we have made progress, and our comfort zone has grown.

Many things we do fall into the grey area between our comfort zone and our fear zone. These are the things that scare us every single time, but we decide that they are worth it enough to keep doing them. Travel can be one of these grey areas for me.

If I hadn’t taken a BIG step out of my comfort zone, I would never have gotten on a plane and moved to England for a year. There’s a lot of travel that I wouldn’t have done had I not stepped out despite my fears. I love travelling. But there are fears that I face before and during each trip. Road trips can make me anxious about car accidents. I worry about illnesses and injuries. I worry about travelling alone and travelling with someone else. I worry that I will plan a bad trip.

But I do it anyway. I keep planning and booking trips because, for me, it’s worth it. I remind myself that accidents can happen close to home, as can injuries and illnesses. Sure, travel brings with it certain risks that are outside of our daily norms, but I work hard at not letting that stop me. And I have people who help me get past my worries and point out when I am being extreme.

Standing on the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh
Climbing up to the top of Arthur’s Seat was outside of my comfort zone. But if I hadn’t done it, I would have missed this amazing view.

Acknowledging our Fears

Another thing in the episode that I found helpful, was the concept of acknowledging our fears and thanking them for keeping us safe before we then put them aside and move forward with the thing that scares us. It reminds me of the Marie Kondo method of purging and cleaning, where you thank an item before getting rid of it. The thanking does nothing for the item, or the fear, itself. But acknowledging that something has served it’s purpose, can help us move past it.

It’s not about ignoring our fears, or pretending they don’t exist. Sweeping something under the rug, or hiding it in the back of the closet, doesn’t make it go away. I have found that the more we hide our fears and ignore them, the more those fears tend to fester and grow. And often, while we’re ignoring our fears, we aren’t pursuing the thing that scares us. That big dream gets tucked away in the closet alongside the fear. When we acknowledge the fear, and bring it out into the light, we can begin the process of moving past it or learning how to live with it.

We are going to face many fears over the course of our lives. Some of them will be really big, and no one will question these fears. Some will be small, or unique to us, and it will seem like no one else will understand them. Is anyone else out there afraid before a big event, like say a Tuesday, that they are going to fall up the stairs and completely destroy their face? Or is that just me?

The important thing, I think, is that we acknowledge our fears and we make a decision about what we’re going to do with them. Are we going to walk away from the thing that scares us? Or are we going decide that the thing we want to do is more important than the fear. Sometimes walking away is the best decision, either forever or for right now. But sometimes we decide to move forward and walk down the scary path. Maybe we’ll get hurt. And maybe it won’t work out. But maybe it does work out. And maybe deciding to move forward on the thing that scares you will make all the difference in the world.

What about you? Is there something that fear is stopping you from doing right now? Is there something that you are currently doing in-spite of your fears? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Until Next Time,

Meaghan Signature

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