Imagine what it would be like to live and lead without fear. What would you do that you aren’t doing today? Fear serves to protect us against real threats, but it also works to inhibit our actions, stymying our ability to play full out, to see and take full advantages of opportunities that present themselves. Dictionary.com defines fear as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined.” In other words, fear is a reaction to something that hasn’t happened yet. When you think about it that way, many of our fears can seem irrational. While these are scary times, that are understandably causing fear and anxiety for many, there are strategies to manage your feelings, and perhaps even become fearless, in the face of this pandemic – and beyond.
- Identify your fears.
Like being chased by physical threat, when you run from your fears, your anxiety increases. Instead, identify and acknowledge your fears. In the workplace, it is common for leaders to fear failure, embarrassment, sub-par performance, losing power or influence, and making mistakes. During the pandemic, these fears may evolve into fears of being laid-off or furloughed. Often, the cause of these fears is a deep-rooted feeling of not being “good enough.” Explore the basis of your fears. What is message is behind them? What opportunities have you have passed up out of fear and how would you lead if you weren’t afraid?
- Explore your safety net.
What is it that you would do if fear wasn’t holding you back? If you were to do it, what is the worst that can happen? Answer as honestly as you can. If the worst-case were to come true, how would you deal with it? Would you survive? If you can come to grips with the worst-case scenario, possibly even find some benefit in it, then perhaps you have nothing to fear. If fear is keeping you from taking advantage of opportunities and living your best life, then perhaps your worst-case scenario isn’t even that bad.
- Put your energy where it matters.
It is important to remember to focus on the things you have control over and not to expend your energy focused on the things you don’t. During this time when fear and anxiety are high, control may be as simple as creating structure by sticking to a schedule every day. Keep up with (or set) regular touchpoint meetings. Break large projects that seem overwhelming into smaller goals and schedule those tasks into your calendar as you would a meeting. You will be amazed at what you can achieve and feel much more in control of your day.
- Practice gratitude.
Research on the effects of practicing gratitude abound. In a UC Berkeley whitepaper, citing various studies, people who wrote down what they were thankful for increased their feelings of wellbeing, happiness and self-confidence. If your fear has, at its root, a belief that you aren’t good enough, gratitude can provide a way to counter it. When you take time to recognize all you have to be grateful for, you are able to positively shift your outlook and reduce your fear.
- Stay in the present.
Since fear is about something that hasn’t happened yet, you are fearless when you focus on the present moment. None of us know what will happen and we can only affect what is going on right now. By staying present in the moment, you will reduce anxiety and fear, and increase your focus so that you can take the next step, which is all anyone really needs to do. Consider practicing mindfulness as a way to train your brain for this. There are many apps out there that are free, or that offer free trials, such as Headspace, Calm or Smiling Mind, and you can start slowly, with mediations that are only 5 to 10 minutes long.
- Adopt a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is the belief that we are able to continuously learn and grow, that failure isn’t evidence of any shortcoming but rather a launchpad for stretching our abilities. That means that every outcome can be beneficial to you. The only way we can derive meaning from a situation is to put it into context. When you realize that everything we do has some purpose and we can take what we learn and apply it to future situations, we stop hanging on to the negative things and being fearful that they will happen again.
- Get outside.
Being in nature has shown to reduce fear and anxiety and increase feelings of calm, happiness and hope. According to research cited in Harvard Health, when people are stressed, they get a thought loop running in their head. The thought loop is interrupted when they get out and walk in nature. In addition, nature walks have been shown to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, part of our fight or flight response. If you are a city-dweller, don’t be deterred, nature can be found in a walk in a city park. And if you can’t get out at all, research showed that listening to nature sounds can have similar effects.
Fear is critical to our survival but not all fears are necessary. Take a look at what fears are holding you back and what you would be able to accomplish without them. Follow some of these tips and and take the first step to doing that thing you know you should do, but are afraid. Get ready to play full out.
Written by Amy Kan. Have you read?
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References: Allen, Summer, Ph.D, May 2018. The Science of Gratitude. Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. and Harvard Health Publishing. July 2018. Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature.
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