“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
When I first read this famous quote to my teenage brother, he replied, ” no thanks! I’d rather not borrow Mom’s car without asking.”
This made me chuckle, however, I don’t think this is what the former First Lady meant. Of course, some fears are justified and some actions (like borrowing Mom’s car without her permission) are foolish or self-destructive (clearly, context must guide the application of this adage), but the answer to eliminating fear, is …to face it!
Science has shown that feeling fear—in the right doses—has several benefits, the only way out of an anxious situation, is through it!
anxiety is normal
Of course, I am not talking about a phobia, where your fear is connected to a specific thing or situation, I am referring to anxiety that is a general feeling of dread or unease that colours your whole day – and maybe even your life.
We all have feelings where a co-worker’s careless comment in the lunchroom leave us insecure; a phone call to a friend that isn’t immediately returned becomes anxiety that the relationship is in trouble; perhaps sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. Even if you go about your activities filled with exaggerated worry and tension when there is little or nothing to provoke them, I’ am here to tell you, that you are not alone.
We all get anxious, even if your worries and fears are so constant that they interfere with your ability to function and relax, is mentally and physically exhausting, drains your energy, interferes with sleep, and wears your body out, instead of labeling it as “generalized anxiety disorder”, you’re better off doing the difficult work…of facing that fear.
whatever you feed, grows
My baby brother Abdurahman used to have a universal childhood fear of the dark. He truly believed that there were monsters under the bed. The more Abdurahman thought about dark, the scarier the monsters got and in turn, the bigger his fear grew. That is because his imagination ran a muck. One day after he insisted that he simply cannot go to his room without someone accompanying him, I decided enough was enough! We were going to conquer this fear once and for all!
I forced Abdurahman to look under his bed and in the closet to confirm that were no monsters, he was hesitant at first and he certainly didn’t get over his fear of the dark overnight, however, his confidence grew, and he slowly began to realize that all his worry was for naught! In other words, in order to get over his fear, he had to face it!
Whether you realize that your tense feelings are more than the situation calls for, or believe that overthinking protects you in some way, the end result is the same: you cannot turn off your anxious thoughts, and it slowly begins to get bigger and bigger – most times hindering you from doing things. But no matter how overwhelming things seem now, you can break free from chronic worrying, learn to calm your anxious mind, and regain your sense of hope.
If learning to manage anxiety has taught me anything, it is that you constantly need to keep challenging yourself to get better. I’ve often thought “hey, I’m comfortable” because I’ve been able to do something I once feared, only to crumble at a new situation that I am not used to.
The most useful method of dealing with anxiety is to keep doing things that are just a little scarier than what I am used to – what the self-help genre calls “expanding your comfort zone.” Of course, don’t jump in the deep end and set yourself back a pace, just take it slow and steady…
ideas to challenge yourself
- do something alone – go for a walk or eat alone.
- Wear something / a colour you don’t normally wear
- Ask more open ended questions to keep conversations going
- Reach out to an old friend
- Maintain eye contact and smile during a conversation
- Put yourself in an unfamiliar setting – go somewhere you have never been before, even if it’s in your hometown.
- Speak to a stranger about the weather
- Instead of texting, call somebody on the phone
- Host a get together
- Go a whole day out of the house without looking at your phone to pretend your busy – or better yet, leave your phone at home!
- Try a MeetUp group
- Exercise in public – a run in the park or at the gym
the sweet spot
Everyone’s comfort zone is different, depending on what our personal triggers are, and you might find my suggested list of actions not difficult. The idea is to engage in an activity that requires a certain degree of discomfort – for you.
Fear can be the birthplace of change, creativity and innovation and we should all make the effort of questioning whether our worries are warranted or not. A little fear really wants the best for us as Eleanor Roosevelt suggested, and transforms us into better, healthier and more engaged people that are guided by love and not fear.