"Do it, You Won't": How to Overcome Fear.
Originally published in The Teller Magazine
When piloting the overactive bundle of nerves that I call my body, I often find myself feeling anxious and fearful. As someone who writes for the “Adventure” section, this isn’t a helpful trait to have, and it often acts as a roadblock in my life, but my anxiety is something I have learned to cope with and conquer as time goes on. Fear is something that affects everyone, but in our most heightened moments of dread or apprehension, it can feel impossible to put one foot in front of another and do the things that scare us. While we’re busy weighing outcomes, rehearsing our actions, or fretting about what others think of us, we could be missing out on opportunities to learn, grow, or experience life to its fullest potential. In my opinion, all of the greatest things in life happen at the intersection of courage, effort and time.
In 2011, I saw the film “We Bought a Zoo,” which was barely memorable and only had a rating of 65% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, I am still reminded of a quote from Matt Damon’s character: “Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage...of embarrassing bravery, and something great will come of it.” Whether you apply this theory to boarding a plane, sending in a job application, or asking someone on a date, modern philosopher Matt Damon has a point.
Though I haven’t fully conquered my anxiety, I have worked to create patterns of thinking which allow me to do the things I’m afraid of. When it comes to confronting a personal problem or shortcoming, I remember that people are often kinder and more merciful than I anticipate, and all of my relationships will benefit from clear communication. In times of trouble or failure, I have been met with comfort and empathy from unexpected people, even strangers who want to lend a hand, or a cell phone, or give me directions when I’m lost. I have found that most people want to look out for each other.
I know that my personal methods won’t work for everyone, so I asked around to find out how others step out of their comfort zones. Zoe, 23, says “I basically tell myself “Do it, you won’t,” and then I have to do it.” Though this is a simplified approach to fear, I call this strategy: Forcing yourself. Charlie, 20, expands on this idea, stating that they “count down and start physically moving towards [the problem] to force myself into the situation...in however long, it will be over, and I’ll be back home safe in bed.” These twenty seconds of courage could be all that one person needs to face their fears, but others might benefit from a healthy dose of perspective.
Perspective can mean many things, but for me it typically includes telling a friend about my fear and asking for their opinion as an outsider. When I am facing a problem, I tend to blow up the importance of my decisions to an unrealistic, epic proportion, and having a second opinion can be grounding and invaluable. I tend to stay away from asking myself questions like, “Will this matter in five years?” because doing math on the risks I’m taking can send me into a deeper spiral of thought. Despite this, others are truly helped by this “five year” perspective, and knowing that their “failure” will be largely inconsequential gives them courage. For Theresa, 20, thinking about the future is helpful when stepping outside of her comfort zone. She says “I I think about the kind of person I want to be...and ask myself if the thing I don’t want to do would bring me closer to that reality. If I’m anxious, it's probably because I feel inferior or incompetent, which I need to work on not feeling anyway.”
With this, Theresa hits on something important: identifying the specific causes of our fear or anxiety is a huge step towards emotional courage and peace. Knowing our list of “triggers” or negative stimuli can allow us to think about our feelings rationally. The body and brain are connected, but it sometimes feels like they’re not speaking the same language. When we recognize exactly what is causing our voice to shake, or our gut to rumble, we gain a stronger control of our lives and a deeper understanding of ourselves.