Feel the fear and face it with courage

Q  I feel stuck in my life. My friends are achieving success in many aspects of their lives while I seem to be watching life pass me by. My friends tell me that I seem to be afraid of putting myself “out there” and I need to try new things. I tend to agree! I let my fears get in the way of applying for promotions at work and generally living the life I want to live. How do I let go of my fears and take some chances?

A You are not alone. So many of us allow fear to hold us back and prevent us achieving our goals. However, your friends, who you feel are achieving success, would not have had this success without some level of fear. It takes courage to overcome fear. In fact, courage only exists because of fear and this is what is needed to move forward. Don’t be mistaken, you do not need to have a lot of confidence to face your fears – this may come later. Courage is what will help you take those first steps.

There are many fears: some are the obvious physical fears such as fear of flying, of public speaking, of spiders, of heights, of the dark and of death and dying. As much as these fears are very real, it is likely that our psychological fears have the biggest impact on us. You might be able to relate to some of these:

  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of uncertainty
  • Fear of loneliness
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of being judged
  • Fear of getting hurt.

Working out which fears you are acting on is the first step towards facing them and the way you respond in certain situations will then make more sense. Fear often dictates how we feel and how we behave. But it is important to appreciate that fear is a feeling, like any emotion. From now on, I want you to think of this feeling as ‘feedback only’. Your mind and your body are telling you something but you must remember that the way you interpret the feeling of fear is not always based on fact. Although it is hard to control our feelings, we do have a choice as to how we respond. You can still act on your fears, but which actions will you consider taking in the future? The ones that hold you back? Or the ones that move you forward?

Think about what is important to you in life. Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What kind of person/friend/partner/parent/employee would you like to be? How important is it to you to be all of these things? Then, think about your fears and how they impact on the important things in your life. You can try the following:

Ask yourself:

    • Are my worrying thoughts helpful to me?
    • What does this fear or worry mean to me?
    • Will these worrying thoughts about my fears matter in a week, a month or a year from now?
    • What will it mean if I do nothing and give in to my fears?

Consider how to respond or not respond to the worrying thoughts and feared situation – what could you be telling yourself instead?

In order to act courageously, can you accept your fears and the worrying thoughts, rather than fighting them or trying to change them? Acceptance is not easy and takes time and patience. Accepting your thoughts means that you acknowledge them but do nothing with them. Over time, your fear will lessen.

Having fears in your life is not a terrible thing – how much attention you give those fears can be a problem though. Where would you like to spend your energies – fighting your fears, giving in to your fears or facing them with courage?

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Counselling Team Leader and a registered psychologist.

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