According to Swiss-American psychiatrist and renowned author, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are only two emotions that we truly experience: fear and love.
Today, we’re talking about fear.
As one of seven universal emotions, fear is a natural part of the human experience. Fear of failure. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown. Fear of rejection.
The universal trigger for fear is the threat of harm, real or imagined. This threat can be for our physical, emotional or psychological well-being. While traditionally considered a “negative” emotion, fear serves an important role in keeping us safe. And sometimes, our fear is actually pointing us in the direction of our highest evolution.
The problem arises when fear takes over. When controlled by fear, it keeps us feeling trapped and prevents us from taking action towards the life we desire (and all the beautiful gifts we’re meant to share with the world).
So how can you feel safe and start moving beyond your fear?
First things first, it’s important to understand the stress response.
The 4 F’s: Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn
When fear pushes us beyond our capacity to hold it - or any emotion - our bodies will signal to our nervous system that we are in danger and survival will kick in. When this happens, we experience one of four fear/survival responses, depending on factors such as individual differences and past experiences of trauma.
In the survival response, you can feel trapped, as if there’s only one possible solution – only one way out.
What you need at this moment is to feel safe. To turn your attention to your body and regulate your nervous system.
How to Calm The Nervous System and Feel Safe
The autonomic nervous system has two main divisions: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for preparing the body for ” fight or flight ” (as described above) in response to a stressor. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system returns the body to a state of “rest and digest” once the threat has passed. This helps to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Before we try to engage our fear, we need to retain a sense of safety and soothe our nervous system through body-based practices.
Here are ways you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system:-Breathwork or a Deep Sigh
- Breathwork can help support the parasympathetic nervous system. Generally the system is best supported through lengthening and deepening the exhale. The tendency with stress is to take short, shallow breaths, so shifting to long, deep breaths can also help shift the nervous system.
- A deep sigh is your body-brain’s natural way to release tension and reset your nervous system. Simply breathe in fully, then breathe out fully, longer on the exhale.
- Humming creates vibrations that massage the section of vagus nerve near your vocal chords. This stimulates your relaxation response and signals to your parasympathetic nervous system that you are safe.
- Singing requires a level of controlled breathwork which can further support the parasympathetic nervous system. Your voice box (larynx) is connected to your vagus nerve. Like humming, singing naturally activates it.
- Yawning is a built-in repair circuit which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and signals rest/digest processes for the body.
- Hugs and cuddles, when we’re receptive to them, aid parasympathetic balance by activating acupressure points that release oxytocin (the love/bonding neurochemical). Deep pressure is detected by receptors in the brain and body that sends signals of safety to the autonomic nervous system. Research has also shown that placing your hand over your heart and deep breathing can sooth your mind and your body.
- Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with poses held for longer periods of time. The longer holds work to unwind the body’s deeper layers of fascia (as opposed to working with the muscles in more dynamic movements). As we work with these layers, we create the conditions to release deeply held tension in the body and mind.
- Supportive meditations and visualizations can prompt the parasympathetic nervous system and relieve an active stress response.
Utilizing these soothing techniques will support you in becoming more resilient, so that you can better respond to fear in the future.
Moving Beyond Fear
“ The more we try to remove ourselves from fear, the more we remain entrapped within it. If you truly are looking for genuine transformation, you need to look no further than your fear. For in it there exists not only an abundance of trapped energy but also the very testing and challenge that we need in order to live a deeper, more authentic life.” — Emotional Intimacy, Robert Augustus Masters, Phd
Once you feel physically and emotionally safe and have moved out of the stress response, you can begin to engage with your fear.
Use the following practices to move beyond your fear and into the life you desire.
Sit with your fear.
Be present with the emotions that are arising — giving them space to be expressed authentically.
In order to move beyond fear, we have to first acknowledge it.
Watch it arise in the body without attaching any thoughts to it. Examine it with curiosity instead of judgment. When loving awareness is put onto any feeling, that feeling will soften.
Understand its positive intent.
Let fear protect you, but not limit you.
Every emotion or behavior has a positive intent, regardless of what it looks like on the surface. Fear is our body’s primitive response to protect us from a potential threat. While some fears emerge as a healthy warning to save our lives, other fears are irrational and need to be acknowledged, understood, and faced.
When you understand that fear is trying to serve you in a positive way, you will be in a better position to truly process the emotion, to act in your best interest, and then let it go.
Be honest with yourself.
We all have fears, but often they are either hidden, or we choose to ignore them.
Fear can show up as procrastination, an excuse, a false perception about reality, or a limiting belief.
What may seem like a legitimate reason for not moving forward is, in reality, an excuse created by the mind to protect us from potential harm.
To create the life you desire, you have to be honest with yourself and acknowledge the fears that are holding you back.
Shift your perspective on failure.
We’ve been conditioned by society to fear failure. However, failure is a necessary part of success, and an essential step in our personal growth. So instead of considering change as a risk, see it as an opportunity. Whatever happens, you cannot fail. You can only learn, grow, and become a more empowered version of yourself.
Visualize your success.
See yourself on the other side. Allow your mind to feel and experience what your life will look like if you already had what you desire. Your mind doesn’t distinguish between what is real and what you imagine. To the mind, a picture is like a true experience.
At the same time, it can sometimes be helpful to imagine what your future would look like if you don’t change. Reflect on the consequences of not following your dreams. What are the downsides of staying within your comfort zone?
“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” — Mandy Hale
The best way to move beyond fear is to move through it.
Fear will slowly dissipate as you take consistent action towards your goals. Start with baby steps to build confidence and become more comfortable with the process. Break your objectives down into realistic, measurable goals that will help you measure your progress, and work on them one at a time. With each goal you achieve, your self-assurance will grow, giving you added momentum in your journey.
Fear is normal. It’s an emotion that will never disappear, no matter what you do. It shows up as a natural signal that you are about to step into something new that will help you expand and live a fully charged life.
So, if there’s something you’ve been longing to do but have yet to take action because of your fear…take the leap. Pursue your dreams. Don’t look back in 5 years and wonder what might’ve been. Take action and don’t let fear stop you from creating the life of your dreams.
Here’s to moving beyond your fear and amazing yourself with who you become.
“Everything you want, is on the other side of fear.” — Jack Canfield
Take some time to deep dive into where your fears, anxiety, and self-doubt stem from, and how you can begin to shift from a space of fear into a space of love.
Here are some journaling prompts to consider:
- What are you most afraid of? Why?
- Where in your life does fear show up?
- How does fear feel in your body? Where does it show up physically?
- How do you respond to fear when it arises?
- How does your fear control you?
- Imagine that your fear is a frightened child, what does it look like? What does it need?
- If you could say ANYTHING to your fears, what would you say?
“Faith and fear both demand you believe in something you cannot see. You choose.” — Bob Proctor
Danielle Rateau is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor, certified health coach, and global traveler. In 2022, she lived and worked at an ayahuasca retreat center in Peru. She is currently expanding her offerings through the study of trauma informed breathwork and sound healing.
Connect with Danielle on Instagram: @daniellerateau