Fear is a strong emotion that demands to be listened to, and, for good reason. When we experience fear (real or perceived) our body reacts automatically in a way to keep us safe. Our body begins to pump stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into our system so that we have the energy needed to respond to the threat. This is amazingly helpful when we are truly threatened and need the energy to keep ourselves safe.
The challenge is that our body can’t always discern between a real threat and a perceived threat. When we worry about things in our life our body responds to this stress in the same way as it would if we came across a bear in the woods. Experiencing the emotion of fear in our body can then cause us to try to stay away from anything that might trigger that feeling. Feeling fearful is unpleasant at best and downright terrifying at worst.
It’s important that we pay attention to our fear and be curious about it so that we can determine if the fear is something that is keeping us safe. If it is, then by all means listen to the message and allow your body to go into protective mode. If it is keeping you from moving into the discomfort zone (but isn’t threatening), then pay attention to what might be causing you the discomfort and whether or not it will serve you to move forward, despite the discomfort.
Think about the last time you made a decision to make a big change in your life; such as moving, changing jobs or schools, or ending a relationship. You likely thought a lot about the shift and you might have felt fearful about the change. Your fear about what could happen and the discomfort it caused, even if temporary, might have kept you from taking steps towards the change. The stress of making the decision kept you from facing your fears and moving forward.
Can you differentiate between fear that is keeping you safe and fear that is keeping you small?
Fear that is keeping you small will feel uncomfortable, but not life threatening. It will keep you from trying something new or changing long held patterns of behavior. You might find yourself wanting to hide or run away from the fear because of how unpleasant it makes you feel. The more you push away from the emotion, however, the stronger it could get over time.
By constantly shying away from your fear you could be saying no to the new job, move, or relationship that could be life changing. By staying small you might be limiting your opportunities for a more expansive and joyful life. Staying small can feel a lot more comfortable in the short term but can lead to disappointment in the long run.
How do you overcome fear that is keeping you small?
Take a deep breath, acknowledge the discomfort and ask yourself if the feeling of fear is keeping you safe or small. Know that you have the capacity within you to move forward despite the emotional response you are having.
Spend some time relaxing your body so that your stress response calms down and your nervous system can try to regulate. Breath into the fear and thank it for the wisdom it brings and its intention to keep you safe.
Choose how you want to respond and know that you have the power to do hard things. When you expand beyond your comfort zone you might begin to realize just how expansive your life can be.