What I've learnt about fear
Yesterday I went to a yoga class at the newly opened Rise HYP studio (a special little yoga & wellness collab with Women's Collective) with my girlfriend Carly and I cried at the end of class. It was the cutest and weirdest thing because I'm not really a crier and I wasn't even premenstrual, but it happened and it was lovely, and all just part of this whole softening into the feminine malarkey that I'm navigating. It wasn't a full ugly cry like you might see from Carrie on Homeland, but there were real tears. I was set off by something that the yoga teacher said during Savasana: "Become the reason someone feels heard and supported." It fully epitomized my vision and mission on this health coaching journey, one that I had been deliberating on and overcooking way too much, when all it needed was these eight simple, beautiful words from a yogi goddess by the name of Hannah Crerar (check out Hannah's blog here).
I'm reminded constantly by moments like these that connection and love is the greatest mission that we are here for, and, in a few short months when I graduate from Institute of Integrative Nutrition, to have the ability to hold space for others in their time of need is a pure gift and a joy.
We are well into the second half of the year, which for many is a meaningful time for introspection. It's been a wild 2017 so far for many people, me included - high highs and low lows - but I actually couldn't be more proud of where I'm at and how I've fared, all things considered. Pride is this new Americanized thing I'm trying out - regularly reminding myself how proud I am, how great my brain is, and allowing myself to fully accept the acknowledgement from others without self-criticism. Antipodeans, and our British friends to an extent, are really not versed in self-praise, so I invite you to try it on for size; give yourself a giant pat on the back for even getting out of bed today. Send yourself flowers for remembering your mum's birthday. (Maybe send mum flowers, too). Self-love and gratitude is really honest and fun!
One of the things I've unveiled in this introspection, possibly the most poignant, is that my story, my limiting beliefs, are almost entirely fear-based. I've had fear simmering away in me since before I can remember, and for good reason. I wasn't made aware of this until I was an emotionally stable adult but as a newborn, my mother - the woman who had brought me into the world only weeks prior - left me behind on the counter of a Farmers department store while she continued shopping. Twenty minutes went by before she realised her mistake. Abandonment now just happens to be the headline chapter in the adult story I'm working to make sense of (not from this incident alone, of course, this was just a funny story, and definitely doesn't detract from Debby Lewis being an exemplary parent.)
At the age of 8, during an aggressive game of hide and seek, my brother locked me in a fridge (which had a lock on it in lieu of functioning seals, not to deter theft) and I was only found what felt like hours later when my dad became curious as to my whereabouts. As a result, I'm now quite claustrophobic and quite weary of the integrity of males in general.
Medication is something I've been fearful of for as long as I can remember. (I can see my friend Rosa doing a giant eye roll as she reads this). We just weren't a medication household. If we had a headache, my brother and I would be encouraged to rub the webbing between our thumb and forefinger rather than indulge in painkillers. One time I was bleeding out of the top of a finger from absentmindedly chopping a dried date with scissors, so mum raced out to the garden and picked some yarrow to stem the blood-flow as I was belting myself into the car ready to be taken to hospital. (She even offered to bring me over some yarrow earlier this week when I was bleeding so heavily out of my breast biopsy wound, I had to sleep with a sanitary pad in my bra.) So it was only fitting that in my early twenties, during a bout of severe toothache that resulted in a trip to A&E, I was prescribed a cocktail of Tramadol and Nurofen, with instructions so confusing I spent the afternoon vomiting and hallucinating from what would become my first (and last) drug overdose. From that point on I was fastidious - bordering on maniacal - with instructions of any form.
Upon reflection, I've really let fear get in the way of many a good time. There's plenty more stories in the same vein, such as the first time I tried to use a tampon, losing my virginity, taking party pills and experimenting with coffee at night time, but this post is already getting a little long in the tooth so I need to skip ahead to the part where I actually provide a useful insight and hopefully a takeaway or two.
I've spent most of my adult life fearing the worst - in relationships, in career, in menu choices, but mostly in myself. I was fearful of failure in all of these areas so I played small to play it safe. Herein lies the Achilles heel of fear: you can't grow from a safe place. Opportunity doesn't lie within easy reach, after all. If it excites you and scares you at the same time, it might be a good thing to try.
I've touched on my experience of anxiety in the past, and for all intents and purposes, fear and anxiety go hand-in-clammy hand. Anxiety is a fear of the future, of the unknown. (Whereas depression is a fear or a rumination of the past). My question for you to ponder is: why do we choose to experience fear and anxiety when we don't know what our future holds, and there isn't familiarity with the unknown? Ergo, how can we fear something we don't know?
Fear is a defence mechanism that serves two purposes: it can protect you from actual physical harm, and it can keep you playing small and not stepping into your truth, because you have told yourself a story - or someone else has told you a story - that you're not good enough, or not deserving of the thing, whatever that thing may be. You can no doubt surmise which is effective and which is ineffective. Fear is an emotion. Emotions are energy in motion. Consider fear (and all other ineffective emotions) to be in cycle mode - they go in, they have to come out. Fear needs to run its' course; if you stuff it down, hide it and run from it, it will become a parasite that infects other areas of your life. Fear is also information. It's how you use that information, that will determine the outcome. Oh hey fear, you're here to show me that I'm about to encounter something I reallllllly want, but not sure I deserve. Thanks for being here to keep me safe, but I got this. I do deserve this.
When it comes to tackling our fears head on, it's important to remember that the language we use is so powerful. The words we choose in everything we speak shapes our world. The mind doesn't know the difference between a well-imagined thought and reality, so, in my own life, I avoid using language like "I hate public speaking" or "I'm not good at public speaking" even though I do really fucking hate public speaking, I say "Public speaking is an area I'm working on at the moment and I'm going to become great at it." What you give energy to grows, and if you keep using fear-based narrative, your fear will --grow. It's (neuro)science.
Some of my best fear hacks for when it shows up:
- Say yes to the thing and figure out the how later. Unless you're a sociopath, your fear won't have a chance to catch up. It's a fear jedi mind trick that I am all about at the moment.
- The best way through is out. Get curious about what the fear is telling you and surrender to the process. Trust that you'll be guided and supported.
- Allow your greatest fears to become your greatest solace. A weekend all on my own?! Yes please!
- Ask yourself, what's on the other side of this fear? Let the what become your how and why. Attach yourself to the feeling you'll experience on the other side of the fear, and you'll detach from the feeling of fear that is holding you back. Remember: what you focus on expands.
Remember that you have the same strength and resilience as Oprah or (insert other superhero of your choice here) - we all do - she's just had more practice using the tools to face fear head on. I have a vulnerability hangover every time I hit send on a new blog post, but the payoff from the acknowledgment I get is worth it. You guys, my dear readers, are the Powerade to this vulnerability hangover I'll feel tomorrow.
This isn't to say I don't still experience fear today, my fearfulness cake is very much still half-baked, but I embrace and enjoy the challenge and the pay-off of facing my fears now. I remind myself what's on the other side of that fear and attach a feeling to it (one that isn't fear, obvs). And one day, I'm going to be a really great public speaker because of it.
I'd love to hear from you about your relationship with fear so email me or comment below. I'm also in the process of putting together a workshop all about mindset and owning your story, so send me an email or comment below if you'd like to sign up to hear more about that, or if you're interested in a kick-ass, game-changing coaching program with me.