Working with Fear! A Fresh Perspective on Engaging with Fear
In this article, Working with Fear, the emotion of fear is given a fresh perspective. We will identify all sides of the emotion and then view it as an entity. One that has the power to keep us safe, propel us forward and to challenge us.
The Yin and Yang of Fear
It’s fair to say that we’ve all experienced fear at least once in our life. You may have experienced a fear of spiders, flying, or of darkness. You may have even experienced a fear of accomplishment, relationship or failure. For this article, never mind your fears. Mind your relationship with fear.
Personally, I have come to find that my relationship with fear is rather unique. It is a relationship that has grown over time and has become just that, a relationship. I know all sides of my own fear. It has a personality and a power of its own.
This past fall, me and a friend traveled along the Blue Ridge Parkway to hike up to Frying Pan Lookout Tower. The tower sits on top of a 5,340-foot mountain and is the tallest tower in Western North Carolina. The tower was built in 1941 and was once used by Park Rangers as a lookout for forest fires. Men would live year round in the small quarter at the very top of the tower.
We decided to climb up the tower on a gloomy, cold, and windy day in August. As we began to climb the 70-foot tall tower, the winds picked up and the steel foundation began to shake . I froze halfway up. I looked around, down, and back up. I was afraid. I couldn’t go any further. I stood stiff as a board and a whole slew of “what if” statements ran through my head. “What if the wind blows the tower over?” “What if the wind blows me over?” “What if fall off the stairs?”
My friends friendly encouragement to continue on did not have an effect on my fear. He was almost at the top of the tower. I’ve never experienced the fear of heights before. I’ve bungee jumped, climbed to the top of cliffs and looked over, and even jumped off of a 20-foot gushing waterfall. So, what did I do as I hung on while the tower shook? I changed my relationship with fear. I took a deep breath, gave my physical body a little shake and climbed on. The reward was breathtaking. We could see for miles. It felt like we were merging with the clouds.
Fear has Two Sides
In the instance above, fear has two sides. Two stories. There are two sides to every story, right? Yin and yang. Fear is no different.
The yin of fear, to name a few, generates feelings of uncertainty, nervousness, anxiety, and self-doubt. Fear can bring us down. It makes us feel inept. It locks us up.
The yang of fear is what fuels the fight or flight response. This is innate and comes from our sympathetic nervous system. Fear provides the initiative to fight or to run. When we are afraid, we often act to remove ourselves from the situation. This response comes in handy when we need to protect ourselves. However, the flight response can blend into the yin of fear. If we are overcome by fear and run, we often begin to put ourselves down and feel less than.
But, what about the fight response? The fight response gives us the adrenaline and strengthen to fight. To fight the fear. We choose to accept the challenge and use fear as a motivator. We feel the fear and do it anyway.
When I stood on the tower stairs, I chose to use fear as a motivator. I chose to fight the fear. My initial “what if” scenario was derived from fear, which produced more fear. My decision to continue on was also derived from being afraid. I was afraid that I may never get this experience again. I was afraid that I would regret not carrying on. I had to feel both sides of fear to make a choice. Fear exists to keep us safe, but it also exists so we can overcome it!
When in a Fearful Situation, Remember that Fear has Two Sides.
Yin and yang. Begin to extract all sides of fear. Build a relationship with fear. Acknowledge all sides of the fear, then question your fear. Why am I afraid? What will I feel if I choose to embody the fear? What will I feel if I choose to use fear as a challenger and a motivator? Am I feeling fearful in effort to protect my physical and mental well-being? Am I feeling this fear to overcome it?
There are all sorts of techniques to help you overcome fear. There are breathing techniques, herbs, essential oils, and hypnosis. Those tools are great, but they are tools. You are the product thats going to make those tools work. So, put your best tool to work, your mind. A mind that has the ability to acknowledge both sides of fear.
I almost didn’t go to graduate school because I was afraid. I was afraid that I’d fail the national board exams. Before even enrolling in the program, I had developed a fear! I went to graduate school anyway and acknowledged that failing was a possibility. It's also important to state that being afraid motivated me to not fail those exams.
I have a fear of spiders. I would rather step on them and clean up their guts before I ever coming close to one. Since living in North Carolina, spiders come into the house all the time. After four years of cleaning up their guts, I started to feel bad that I had killed so many. I decided to consult with the other side of my fear. To save a spider became a motivator and a priority. I still squeal when I see one, then I put a glass over it, slide a piece of paper under the glass, and carry the insect outside to freedom!
Always remember, fear has two sides. Yin and yang. Follow the fear or feel the fear and do it anyway!
This post was inspired by the Winter season. In Eastern Asian literature, fear is the emotion associated Winter. Similarly to winter, fear resides in the deepest darkest parts inside of us. This is why it can be difficult to build a relationship with fear. It’s like diving into a cave and crawling out. Imagine what could happen when you begin to crawl towards the light!
During this winter season, I encourage you to connect with your fear. Acknowledge both sides. Consult with them. Build a relationship with fear and then make a decision.
Do you have an experience with fear that you overcame? Have you consulted with both sides of fear? If so, please share! I’d love to hear about them.
Further Suggested Reading:
Books on Working with Fear:
Feel the Fear...And Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
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Disclaimer: This information is intended for general reference only. It is not a replacement for professional health advice. The content in this post intentionally does not provide dosage information or possible interactions with prescription drugs or other medications. Please contact a certified health practitioner such as a physician of Oriental Medicine or Herbalist before considering use. To schedule an appointment with Malerie, visit the services page.