Fear is one of the biggest challenges people face in managing change and moving forward in their lives. If you’re living your life based on avoiding the things that you fear, you’re not free to take risks or pursue your dreams. If your energy is being expended in avoiding failure, rejection, physical harm, and emotional pain by avoiding the people, places, and situations that trigger your fears—then that energy is tied up in your vigilance to stay safe instead of in fulfilling your potential. To override fear, you first have to understand it, as well as the fight-or-flight response that’s been with us from our earliest beginnings. Through evolution, we’re hard-wired to respond to fear with intensity. For our evolutionary precursors out in the wild, the fight-or-flight response was a valuable survival mechanism. It’s not as useful when triggered by modern-day fears. In addition to inducing changes in the autonomic nervous system, cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” is released in higher quantities than normal in response to the stress invoked by fear. Cortisol helps the system react and return to its normal state once the threat has passed. However, chronic stress causes elevated levels of cortisol, which has many adverse effects, including impaired cognitive performance, suppressed thyroid function, blood-sugar imbalances, higher blood pressure, and increased abdominal fat. In addition, chronic stress can compromise your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Ultimately, living with chronic states of fear and stress is unhealthy for our bodies and for our spirits.
Most of our fears are not based on our current reality. They are the product of imagined fears conjured up in our minds—the product of our own fantasies. I refer to FEAR as “Fantasized Events As Real,” because that’s precisely the process that takes place. Of course, if you’re walking alone to your car in a dark parking lot at 2 A.M., you may have every reason to experience fear. That fear is going to propel you to your car, key at the ready, as fast you can move. However, the other kind of fear—the fear that has no basis in reality—is one of the biggest things that keeps people from pursuing the life they desire. Fear of meeting new people or trying something new. Fear of success and fear of failure. Fear of leaving a job you hate, getting out of a relationship that isn’t working, or moving to a new city. Fear of defying convention. Fear of change.
Fear rears its head when people attempt to move beyond their comfort zones. Each of us has a comfort zone—a set of boundaries within which we live. These are the situations and circumstances that we know, that give us a sense of security because they represent what’s familiar. Staying within your comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happy there. It’s just what you’re used to. Your willingness to expand your comfort zone allows you greater experiences and freedom. To move outside your comfort zone, you have to be able to manage fear. Below are four steps you can take to move beyond the shackles of fear, and create the life experiences and circumstances to which you aspire.
• Identify the “gloom and doom” movie you’re running in your mind. Ask yourself, what am I imagining will happen?
• Do a reality check. Figure out if your fears have any real basis in fact. Be as methodical as you need to be.
• Replace the gloom and doom movie with one that supports your goals—focus on the movie of the future state you want to achieve.
© 2009 Lauren Mackler all rights reserved