Transform your fears into your greatest strengths
Founder of The Mindful Moment, Dr. Alexandra Domelle outlines the key steps in overcoming your fears
Everyone has fears.
Everyone is afraid of something.
Everyone feels scared.
Fears are an evolutionary response, a warning system designed to prevent us from coming to harm. They are a mechanism to keep us safe. A signalling pathway that holds our actions in check.
Fears can be crippling, unsettling and persistent.
Some say that fears are illusionary, preventing us from reaching our full potential. And that the only way to overcome a fear is to do what makes you afraid. Just do it anyway and break free of the cycle.
One of the hardest things to do when fearful, non-life threatening situations arise is to stay present.
The mind will do anything to escape.
Your thoughts start to wander, revisiting the past, ruminating, and re-imagining memories. Or you may be racing into the future, constructing and creating scenarios that are yet to come.
And sometimes, it’ll just be easier to jump into a pleasant pre-programed fantasy that is miles away from reality.
Fears can be sticky, unpleasant, and uncomfortable. They ramp up your anxiety, shorten your breaths, and increase your heart rate. Despite the fears surrounding fear, it can actually become one of your greatest strengths.
Provided your fear is not in response to a direct, immediate threat (e.g. you are about to be hit by a vehicle, bitten by an animal or confronted by some other life-threatening emergency, the following steps may be helpful.) Oh, and if you are in immediate danger, please listen to your instincts and protect yourself from harm.
Disclaimer: The author of this article does not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any technique as a form of treatment for physical, emotional, or medical problems without the advice of a physician, either directly or indirectly. The intent of the author is only to offer information of a general nature to help you in your quest for emotional and spiritual wellbeing. In the event you use any of the information in this article for yourself, the author assumes no responsibility for your actions.
(Sorry, I had to include that in case someone decided to get themselves and me into trouble. Come to think of it: perhaps all Medium articles should carry some kind of warning. But I digress…where were we? Ah yes, I left you ruminating with your fears…)
The first step is to acknowledge your fear.
A fearful response sets off the body’s alarm bells, putting it on high alert. As fear builds, so do the number of thoughts. Bodily changes (such as shallow breaths, sweating, heart palpitations, and dry mouth) aside, fear can send out thoughts into overdrive, making it increasingly difficult to make coherent decisions.
Focus on your breathing.
Take deep, slow breaths, feeling the air entering and leaving your body. Try and direct the air into your lungs or stomach, whichever feels most comfortable. (I know that most texts ask you to shift the air into your belly but if this is too hard for you and feels unnatural, then, by all means stick to breathing into your lungs. The goal here is the deep, shallow breaths. Lots of air in and lots of air out.)
Observe your body as you continue to inhale and exhale.
Thoughts may arise and pull your attention away from your breathing. This happens to everyone. Anytime this happens, bring your awareness back to your breaths. Focus on the tip of your nose if that helps, feeling the cool air move its way into your body and the warm air as you exhale.
Bring your attention to the present moment.
You are breathing. You are safe. You are here, now. Your body is at ease. The issue that triggered your fearful response may still be present, but you are no longer a slave to its whims. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly.
From this vantage point, examine the issue.
Is it really what you initially thought it to be?
What was it about this issue that triggered your fear?
Is this issue what you are really afraid of, or is there something else behind it, something deeper?
If this reflection gets too much and you find yourself being pulled back into fear, then return your breathing.
Focus on your breaths. The answers to your questions may not all come at once. Consider talking with someone who can help guide and support you through the process.
Having fears does not mean you are insane (unless you have a medical diagnosis confirmed by multiple therapists, and even then, it will be called something other than insanity. Rather grateful that we have moved on from labels like “insanity” and “hysteria.”)
Nor do fears mean that what you experience is irrelevant. (Please consider getting second, third and fourth opinions; i.e. there is little point in working with a therapist who feels that what you are experiencing is inconsequential.)
Your fears, feelings and emotions are real for you and your wellbeing matters. You matter.
Fears can allow us to uncover our hidden emotions, thoughts and beliefs. They can help us better understand who we are, what drives us and why we do the things we do.
Sitting with our fears in stillness, in silence, in awareness takes courage. It asks us to be vulnerable, to explore the deepest, most primitive recesses of our being, to shift from conditioned reactions to a mindfully present response.
There is rawness, power and beauty in this.
For to confront our fears, to name them, to acknowledge them is life-changing. When we realise that what we are afraid of holds no more power over us — that is liberating.
This does not mean that our fear won’t come back; rather than when it does, it no longer has that terrifying hold over us. We are no longer trapped, rendered immobile and mute.
We know how to get past that moment.
And we can make that shift over and over again, as many times as is needed, until that fear is but a distant echo.
We are free in that moment, in that breath, in that heartbeat.
And there lies our greatest strength.