It’s easy to feel like you’re the only person feeling anxiety. That everyone else has it together and that there’s something wrong with you.
But, it’s not true. There are other things that make you unique but fear isn’t one of them.
I’ve been promising for a while to tell you about my process for facing fear.
I call it a process, because fear will always have a place in my life. The process I follow is to help me deal with fear productively so I keep moving forward regardless.
My most recent fear was that I would die during an operation I had to have.
I had something called a cholesteatoma that had to be removed from my ear. [In Cholena speak] Basically, it’s skin cells that grow in your ear where they shouldn’t and take over.
The doctors say that it’s not a tumour but it acts a bit like one, eroding parts of your ear, nerves and potentially moving into your brain.
You can see why I was scared can’t you?
I knew something was wrong when the doctor didn’t laugh at my jokes the second time I met him.
“Possible side effects include some paralysis of your face and meningitis,” he said gently with a straight face.
“I prefer to keep my face as it is,” I joked.
I guess if he’d have laughed, then he wouldn’t feel like he was doing his job of preparing me for the worst possible thing that could happen.
He lowered his voice, frowned a little and continued.
“There is a risk of facial paralysis and meningitis if you do have the surgery,” he repeated in his serious tone, “if you don’t have the surgery they are almost certain.”
A few months later and I’m still standing.
I made it through the surgery with very few side effects and I’m making a full recovery. (Here’s a pic of me post surgery)
At the time I was petrified of what would happen. I was afraid of dying.
When I spoke to a friend post operation she was a little confused, “but I saw you a few days before the operation and you didn’t tell me about all the side affects. You seemed really happy.”
“I know. I was happy.” I replied, “It’s all part of my process of dealing with fear. The more I voice it, the more I fan the flames of fear. It’s just not productive or constructive. Instead, I choose to thrive in all the ways I can influence.”
“It’s my process.”
And it worked. Between the diagnosis and the operation I had walked 250 km with my husband from Porto in Portugal to Santiago in Spain and I laughed as much and as often as possible.
I figured three things:
1. If the worst possible thing happened, I wanted to know that I’d made the most of my time and enjoyed every moment.
2. I would bring a much healthier mindset and optimally healthy body to the operation if I maintained my positive outlook and mindfulness in the lead up.
3. I had a great team supporting me. Not just my doctor and medical team, but my husband, family and friends, my work, my financial planner and health insurance. (Even my hairdresser who gave me a hair cut before I returned to work, diligently avoiding my wound)
I promised to tell you my process for managing fear and anxiety. Like any process you won’t get the benefit of it until you try it.
1. Simply observe your fear
A lot of people try and push their fear and anxiety away when it comes up, and in doing so, they make it worse.
Instead, when fear comes up take time to observe your fear.
Do this from an intellectual point of view. Ask, what am I afraid of? Why? What’s the worst thing that can happen? What then?
Next, observe the sensation of fear on your body.
You’ll notice that you feel the sensation of fear in different places and ways. It may be a tightness in your stomach, your throat might close in, you may feel tension in your chest.
Wherever and whatever the sensation is on your body, simply observe it.
Don’t react, just observe.
Next, take your awareness to other parts of your body, moving from head to toe and back up to your head again.
You’ll notice that observing your fear without reaction, changes it.
Soon, your breathing slows down, the sensation of anxiety lifts and the fear feels less.
(If you wake up at night with anxiety this is the technique I recommend to help you go back to sleep.)
2. Open your mind to seeing things differently
A lot of the time, fear comes down to perception. We perceive changes as threats and our automatic response is fear.
Step two in my process is understanding that there’s probably another way of looking at whatever is causing me fear.
Someone else may have a different point of view, there may be information I’m missing, or I may not be seeing the opportunities in front of me as I’m focusing too much on the challenges and threats.
This step is simply about being open to change. Changing your mindset and the way you perceive the world.
In practical terms, this is about saying to yourself “I’m willing to see things differently” and asking better questions of yourself and others.
In the example of my health scare, I chose not to focus on the risks, but to focus on my health and the opportunities I had in front of me to thrive.
3. Pay attention to what’s great.
Fear has a funny way of taking our focus away from the people and things in life that we love. And guess what happens when you don’t pay attention to those things? You risk losing them.
You also miss opportunities to thrive.
Whenever I feel fear anxiety, and disappointment I take a moment to look around me and take stock of what’s great about my life.
Is someone being rude and awful towards you? Look around. I’m sure you’ll quickly find someone who is in your corner and helping you whenever they can.
Have you missed out on a big deal? Check out your pipeline, I’m sure there are other opportunities you can devote your energy to.
The opposite of fear is love. It’s impossible to feel fear when you feel love, and it’s impossible to feel love when you feel fear.
Which emotion will you choose?
Don’t forget to express gratitude for what you have.
4. Forgive yourself and others
I wrote about forgiveness last month. Here’s the link.
Sometimes we’re afraid of admitting we were wrong. Other times we’re afraid that if we let go of what’s been done to us, we are inviting repeat behaviour.
The problem is, holding on to our grievances stops us from moving forward. That includes our guilt.
It is possible to be forgiving without being a walk over. When you let go, you’re better able to clearly define what you need from others.
5. Create and produce
Once we’ve observed our fears opened our mind, taken stock of our strengths and opportunities, and forgiven ourselves and others, we are ready to move on.
We’re ready to create, produce and give service to others.
What are you going to create today? I can’t wait to see it.
This all sounds complicated but when you get used to it, the process takes a few minutes. You,
1. Observe your fear, intellectually and as sensation;
2. Open your mind to see things differently;
3. Shift your focus to pay attention to what you’re grateful for;
4. Forgive yourself and others involved in the situation; and
5. Get back to focusing on what’s important.
Keep moving forward, your dreams are more important than your fears.