False Expectations Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.)
Today’s world is filled with things to make us afraid. The constant threat of terrorism. Monster storms. Ebola virus. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Children not safe in their classrooms. Violence in our own neighborhood streets. Given these terrifying facts, it’s truly amazing that most of us get up, get dressed and go to work or school each day!
Fear is an emotion we all have. It is a survival response to danger and it’s normal. However, much of what you fear may very well be self-created, inaccurate beliefs that keep you stuck. Are you haunted by fear of failure? Do you worry about being out of control or criticized? Looking foolish? Being lonely? Painful as these may be, they are often illusions that you imagine in your mind. They make you anxious about the future and cause you to procrastinate. Fear can cause you to opt for a mediocre life because it seems safe and predictable.
I’m not knocking fear, because it does have value. Without fear you wouldn’t be able to protect yourself from legitimate threats. Fear can also be a motivating force. Remember how much you studied before an exam? But fear isn’t a positive trait in the workplace. Fear inhibits learning and performance. And unfortunately many of us fear situations that are far from life-and-death. Mark Twain said it best, “I’ve suffered a great many tragedies in my life and most of them never happened.” Ask yourself if what you find threatening is actually something you’re building in your brain.
Certainly there are genetic and chemical predispositions to be fearful. Yet while you may be wired to worry, courage is something you can learn. If you spend most of your time trying to avoid fear, if you are muddling along, it’s time to get skilled at the art of mastering your insecurities. Your team hungers for leadership, for guidance and direction from someone with a clear vision and a cool head. Great leaders are not born; they’re made. You can conquer your fears and be the leader your family, community and practice needs. Here are some practical strategies to push you out of your comfort zone so you can tackle new opportunities.
Exercise. There are many benefits of cardiovascular fitness, among them lower anxiety and depression. Researchers have found that when we exercise we are less responsive to the stress hormone cortisol.
Get support. Humans are social creatures and we need the emotional support of family and friends. Oxytocin, the hormone that binds mothers and children as well as romantic partners, lessens the sensation of pain and fear. Leaning on your support network can make all the difference.
Switch the ‘station’. If you don’t like the song or the TV program, you change the station. The same holds true in managing thoughts. Reframe the situation that produces fear and see it from a different perspective. To use a theatre metaphor, go to the balcony and get a bigger view of what’s before you. By putting things in a broader context you will be in a better mindset. Remember that there are always ‘trade-offs’ in our choices and decisions. Rewards often come with some risks, but focus on the good things that might come.
Take it in bite-size pieces. A daunting task can drive even the toughest into discouragement. Break that project you’ve been avoiding into small parts. Focus on taking incremental steps rather than getting bogged down and despaired by the hugeness of what’s before you. Take action on something that you can do in an hour or less and be disciplined in your attention.
Take safe risks. A key factor to mastering fear is to develop a sense of confidence. Engage in activities that challenge you but have minimal risk. For example, if your introverted style is hindering your treatment case presentations, initiate short conversations with people in the grocery store. Or make a toast at a dinner party. When you intentionally push the boundaries of your comfort zone you become more self-assured and progressively take on more difficult challenges.
Befriend your fear. There have been important research discoveries about the impact of stress on longevity. Once thought to be harmful, fear itself is not as detrimental as once thought. What is significant is how we define and respond to anxiety and fear. In fact, those who overcome social challenges and work the hardest live the longest. When you feel afraid, use that as a signal of an inaccurate belief and challenge yourself to think about what you want to achieve.
It’s normal to be apprehensive when facing uncertain outcomes, but if you try to protect yourself from all the horrible things that could go wrong, you will be stagnant. The infamous words of Theodore Roosevelt ring true - “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Having courage is not being fearless, but resolving to meet a scary circumstance head on. Be brave.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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