Fear. Sweaty palms, pounding heart, racing mind, tense muscles and narrowed vision. Can this force become fuel?
A Libre Living reader named Kamaal recently asked me this: “Can you please let me know techniques to overcome the fear of facing public talk/presentation skills. Every time when I try I go hot and cold and my mind is filled with negative thoughts and fear. Kindly help me.”
Here’s what I used to do with fear: Run from it. I spent most of my life pretty much afraid of everything; constant anxiety ran my show. Just thinking about getting out of bed was enough to set off an adrenaline chain reaction and cortisol feeding frenzy. So, I chose to hide. I ducked anything that sparked even the slightest anxiousness. Picture an ostrich with its head in the ground and you’ve summed up my preferred response. This was extremely effective.
My avoidance tactic didn’t do much to ease my fear, but if I ever wanted to pursue life as a hermit, my skills would be off the charts. The more I hid from fear, the more it grew; and the more it grew, the more I wanted to hide. Cue head in sand. Again. Here’s what I eventually learned from people who feel the fear, and do it anyway.
5 Ways to Turn Fear into Fuel
1. Feel the fear. Running from anything does nothing. Resistance breeds persistence. Try this: Think of something that’s causing you anxiety or fear. Now stop thinking about it. Seriously, stop that right now. This instant. Easy? Probably not. If you’re like me and most other people, strenuously avoiding a feeling state, especially fear, actually makes it seem to grow. Try this instead: Make like the Buddha. As far as I understand it, Buddhism teaches a form of meditation that involves embracing what is, and then getting curious about it. Try this with fear: What does it feel like in my body? Where are the strongest sensations? What do they feel like? Getting curious about fear takes away its power. And, funnily enough, it also takes away its persistence.
2. Breathe. So does this. Once we’ve stopped resisting fear, and gotten curious about the sensations in our body, we can begin to pay more attention to our breath. Fear leads to short, shallow breathing—which helps to de-activate the calming actions of the parasympathetic nervous system. Facing a ravenous Saber toothed tiger? De-activating the system that enables you to fight or flee is probably not the most survival-oriented option. But when facing a crowd of open-minded audience members? Breathing more deeply, and activating all the calming responses of your parasympathetic nervous system, is probably the way to go. People who feel the fear and do it anyway know that deep breathing is deeply calming.
3. Turn fear into energy. People who face their fears can re-interpret the physical sensations as symptoms of energy building. Without the label our mind places on the sensations, we’re free to get creative about what we’re feeling, and what it can do for us. The pounding heart is sending fresh blood into our muscles. Stillness isn’t something the body wants to embody when feeling fear. People who move when they feel fear let it move through them, and can use it as a source of energy.
4. We are all the same. Well, not exactly. But people who face their fears know this: Everyone feels it. And you know that cliché, “We spend more time thinking people are thinking things about us than they actually spend thinking things about us”? It’s true. Everyone feels fear, and more people are out there cheering us on than judging us. And even more of them aren’t even thinking about us at all—because they’re too busy imagining what we’re thinking about them.
5. Tell the truth. Lie detectors work because the body can’t tell a lie. We can get ourselves to say pretty much anything, but the body won’t come along for the ride. The same fear-based stress response that comes up when we feel afraid comes up when we tell a lie. So people who do scary things like speak in front of big groups know this one thing for sure: They only tell the truth.
As Martha Beck says, “The only way to let your light shine is to tell the deepest truth you have.”
Feel the fear, do it anyway, and shine on.