We’re all programmed to feel fear. It’s what keeps us safe. It’s that ‘fight or flight’ instinct that was supposed to protect us from marauding carnivores thousands of years ago. But our environment has changed over the last few thousand years such that, for most, marauding carnivores are no longer an issue.
Today, those occasional carnivores have been replaced with what seem to be constant sources of fear: bosses, parents, partners, and teachers to please; deadlines to meet; life decisions to make; fear of success, failure, change…
Our minds and bodies weren’t designed to handle constant fear.
Labels Are Powerful
Society has relabeled many fears as ‘stress’ to make them socially acceptable. You’re not human if you’re not feeling stress about something, right? Think of all the times you use the word ‘stress’ or ‘stressed.’ How would the same thoughts and phrases sound if you replaced ‘stress’ with ‘fear?’
“I’m so stressed out!” becomes “I’m so fearful of…!”
“She makes me stressed.” becomes “She makes me afraid of [not making her happy.]”
Funny how that rephrasing unlocks the door to releasing the stress. Feeling stressed out is a fuzzy feeling that you can’t put your finger on or do anything about (other than some deep breathing). Labeling what you’re afraid of gives you something you can work with, something you can focus on and change.
That rephrasing also changes the source of the stress/fear from something outside of you that you can’t control to something within you that you have complete control over.
If your work stresses you out, rather than living day to day with that belief, you can change it by focusing on your fears. Are you afraid of your boss? Why? How can you change your interactions with or thoughts about your boss to lessen that fear? Are you afraid of missing deadlines? Can you plan ahead, start projects sooner, say ‘no’ more often to create time for your important projects, stop trying to be a perfectionist? All of these actions are in your power.
Yes, some jobs can be more demanding than others which tends to increase stress levels. If the demands are too much for you, ask yourself: Is this job in alignment with my values? Does it support my ideal lifestyle? Is it worth the life energy I’m expending on it? Is it worth my precious time (which I’ll never get back)?
If the stress/fear you’re currently experiencing is the trade-off for a higher vision you have for your life, focus on your Why, your vision, rather than the stress to reduce the negative effects the stress may have on your body and psyche.
Fears can be managed if they can be labeled and called into the light of day. That scary monster in the closet wasn’t so scary when you shined a light on it and realized it was just a pile of dirty laundry.
Fear of Breaking Unwritten Rules
Fears of adulthood are the same. Often, fears are related to unwritten ‘rules’ that you believe to be true.
If you’re afraid of choosing the wrong career, it’s probably because you believe the ‘rule’ society perpetuates that says that once you choose, you’re stuck with that career the rest of your life, and you’re a failure if you change. While you may get flak from friends and family who hold that belief, you’re free to change your choice of career any time you like.
If you’re afraid of taking extended time away from work for a sabbatical to ‘find yourself,’ travel or see what else life has to offer because you think it will destroy your career, you’re thinking that the gap on your resume will look bad. Times have changed dramatically in this area. Many companies look for people with broad and diverse backgrounds who can draw from a multitude of seemingly non-related experiences in their careers. Twenty years ago, my two year ‘sabbatical’ had no impact on my ability to get back into the corporate world. Some interviewers were actually a little jealous.
If you’re afraid of following your heart, gut or your intuition because you think it might lead you astray, you’re thinking that your head is smarter than your heart or gut at leading you in the right direction. That’s simply not true – as long you regain your inherent ability to connect with and listen to the subtle but powerful (and right for you) messages that your gut and heart send you all the time.
Focusing on your fear can help you to see if the scary monster is simply a misguided belief that you need to change in your own mind.
The next time you feel your heart racing and your body tensing, follow these steps to conquer your fears and short circuit the mounting stress:
- Stop, close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
- Focus on your heart, gut and any other parts of your body where you’re feeling constricted. Breathe into those places imagining that you’re giving those areas the extra oxygen they need.
- Ask yourself, your heart or your gut what it’s afraid of. If you don’t get a clear answer, ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions to narrow things down. ‘Yes’ or positive responses from your body feel relaxed and open. ‘No’ responses feel tight and heavy, like the fearful feelings you’re already experiencing.
- Write out the fear in as much detail as you can.
- Once you’ve identified the source of the fear, ask what you can do to lessen the fear. Are there actions you can take or beliefs you can change that will allow you to feel better? You can’t change other people. You can change your perceptions of and responses to them.
- Write down all of your ideas.
- Choose one idea that you can act on immediately and do it. Act on the next idea as soon as you can, repeating the process until you’ve taken action on all of your ideas (as long as they don’t involve hurting others).
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 and notice how much your fear and stress have subsided. Repeat the whole process until your fear/stress is at a manageable level.
You don’t have to live under a dark cloud of stress. Don’t let stress rob you of your health and vibrancy. You have the power to make these changes in any moment. Why not now, in the present moment?
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