Managing the Discomfort of Fear

Fear.

When it’s present, it consumes me.

It can paralyze a person and make her stagnate for years. That’s how I feel sometimes. It affects me in so many areas of my life.

Fear of pain – my physical wellbeing.

Fear of rejection – my self-esteem.

Fear of loss – my sense of fulfillment.

Fear is a perception of what could happen based on an experience or story we’ve been told. It’s supposed to remind us to be cautious around the dangers of the world. But if the belief in our fears become too strong, it can prevent us from taking risks. If we don’t allow ourselves to take risks, we’ll never know what we’re capable of and what our true potential is.

Lately, I’ve been challenging my fear. Facing it head on.

Since I was a little girl, I have been deathly afraid of heights. My earliest memory of this fear was on a trip to the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver when I was six years old. I was screaming until my throat was raw, clinging to the side of the bridge as my mom was urging me to cross. Tourists were passing me with strange looks on their face. My one-year-old brother was happily strolling along beside me and my embarrassed mother.

Since then I let that fear hold me back until three years ago. I knew I couldn’t let my fear of heights control me any longer. I grew to love hiking, and there were certain areas in the mountains where I couldn’t afford to faint from vertigo or suffer from hyperventilation. Endangering myself needlessly in the middle of a mountain ridge was not an option. I needed a controlled environment where I could push the limits of my fear and explore how to control it.

So I took up wall climbing. It was difficult physically, but the real struggle was in my head. It took a lot of effort not to think about how a mere slip-up could cause my death. This was especially difficult to do as I wrestled with my footing and battled muscle fatigue.

But since I have committed to challenging myself, I have gone on to see some of the world’s most beautiful places. Hiking the Rocky Mountains and overcoming some of its treacherous obstacles is something that I can actually do because I proved to myself that I am capable of it. As a reward, I have seen places that people can only imagine. But even better, I discovered that I don’t need my fear to control my decisions.

Right now, I’m working with Christopher to face an even greater and more prevalent fear in my life. This one goes right down to my core. The fear of failure.

I can’t remember when this fear started controlling my life, but I know how it came about. Growing up, I never wanted to disappoint my parents. I always wanted to make them proud. In my mind that meant succeeding in everything I did. I quickly learned that if the risk of failing was too high, it wasn’t worth doing. Never did I imagine how that type of thinking would hold me back in so many ways.

It held me back from joining the basketball team in junior high. It even held me back from making friends in university. Eventually my fear of failure would prevent from putting in my best effort into things, like applying for my dream job. If I was going to fail anyways, why would I put in all my effort? Failure became a self-fulfilling prophecy and it soon solidified into a belief about myself.

Some of my biggest dreams in life have never been manifested. They just stayed as dreams. They are still important in my life, but I didn’t give myself the chance to turn them into a reality. These dreams still reside in me today, itching to break free and come to realization.

One of these dreams is to live and work overseas.

My time to make this happen is quickly running out. I have goals to settle down, but I know that moving abroad is something I need to do first. Thoughts of failing have been holding me back for a long time now.

What if I can’t find a job?

What if I can’t support myself?

Christopher made me answer these questions during one of our sessions. The answer made me cringe.

I’d have to return home and rely on my parents.

I’d be a burden to people, asking for help if I couldn’t find a job right away.

We did an exercise to challenge these beliefs. Because in the end, they were just thoughts in my head. Nothing was true. These thoughts could definitely be a possibility, but the opposite could also be true. Christopher challenged me to entertain that idea.

It was difficult to think that things could go well. But it was exhilarating at the same time. The feeling of exploring a different part of the world and realizing what I’m capable of on my own. Exploring different cultures, trying new foods and meeting different people. That was also a possibility.

Interestingly the exercise I did with Christopher was first introduced to me by a counsellor I was seeing while I was suffering from depression a couple of years ago. Although it was monumental in my recovery, I later forgot about it. It was a pleasant surprise to know that this practice is relevant to many situations in life. I knew it was worth keeping in my mental wellness toolbox for any daily thought battles I found myself in.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about fear and how it exists in my life. I’ve realized that my fear of failure has a stronger hold on me than I thought. I’ve been switching between feeling exhilarated and sad about moving abroad. Exhilarated for the learning and adventures that await me. But sad that I might not be resilient enough to handle the stress of moving to a foreign place.

I suppose that’s why it’s called risk. The rewards can be really high, but the consequences can go very steep. I’m the type of person that needs control. I need to know every possible outcome and how to react to it. The unknown is a very uncomfortable place for me.

I know that this isn’t a possibility in all situations in life. Embracing the unknown is something I’m trying be comfortable with. I can’t say that I can conquer my fear of failure right now. But what I can do is take a deep breath and ease into the discomfort of this fear. It’s not going away anytime soon so I instead, I will try to embrace it as much as I can. I know I have the tools to manage it, and it’s helpful to know that Christopher is just a quick call away if the discomfort gets too much.