Fear is familiar. We have all struggled with panic, apprehension, and dread. When potential failure enters the equation – when you approach obstacles that are seemingly insurmountable – your heart races, your blood pressure increases, and your adrenaline flows. You sweat, you shake, and the prospect of instant evaporation into thin air seems like a welcome alternative.
Many of you are probably familiar with the concept of “fight or flight.” When truly life-threatening situations are encountered, the most basic part of the brain tries to save us by forcing our body into a primal decision-making algorithm. Do we run away? Do we eliminate the threat? The next time you surprise a grizzly bear while walking through the woods, this physiological response may be useful. However, when you are preparing to present a familiar topic to a group of your peers, or if you’re just reading through the news about a growing pandemic, this reaction will certainly be unwelcome. This basic part of your brain is easily confused. A public speaking engagement or simply reading stories about the coronavirus is clearly less perilous than a grizzly bear encounter. Without intervention, however, our brains fail to realize that a possible negative future outcome, no matter how unlikely, differs from imminent danger.
The anxiety that accompanies fear – the sweats, the shakes, the panic – can be resolved if you leverage love, humor, and purposeful relaxation. Fear cannot exist in the presence of love. Love dissolves fear. Fear cannot exist when you are truly relaxed, relaxation opposes fear. Humor and fear cannot coexist. The negative physical responses associated with fear are absent when you are laughing. Fear is the product of negativity and self-doubt. Introduce positivity, believe in yourself, and you will find that your fear transforms into confidence. Convert despair into love, and fear retreats. Take a deep breath and connect your mind and body. You will discover that fear ceases to control your limbs.
Returning to public speaking scenarios… the next time you are standing in front of an audience, project love towards those sitting in front of you. Know that they will benefit from what you have to say. Love the fact that they have committed to listening. You are prepared, and you are competent. Nobody is perfect, you might make a mistake. But a mistake does not imply failure. Give yourself a break! Cut yourself some slack! The audience wants you to succeed and they want to hear what you have to say. This approach may also be applied to any interpersonal interaction that makes you feel apprehensive.
And more currently, as we cope with this pandemic, you’re probably finding yourself sheltered at home facing an uncertain future while consuming news that’s not that great. If you feel the weight of general anxiety taking its toll on you, remember to focus on the things you love. Perhaps this situation is giving you more time with the people you love. Allow yourself to connect with them. Perhaps you have time for things you put off for a long time – gardening, crafts, meditation, self-improvement. Allow yourself to embrace these things and enjoy it! It may not make the pandemic end, but it will enrich your life and make you feel better.
Consider introducing humor into turbulent or unpredictable situations. Some people immediately fall back on self-deprecating humor; this can certainly be effective when executed appropriately, but don’t sacrifice your self-esteem for a few laughs. Life is full of funny fodder. What silly thing did someone say last weekend? What comical encounter did you work through today? Share your experience! Humanize your situation. Your counterparts will thank you for doing so because they too are human and have similar fears and apprehensions. Your fear will dissolve and you will succeed.
Finally, when leveraging love and humor, don’t forget to relax. When you are feeling tense, take a moment to recognize your body’s inappropriate fight or flight response and work to correct it. You can listen to a guided meditation program or just meditate on your own. Take a deep breath (or three), roll your shoulders, scan your body from toes to nose. Can you feel the balls of your feet? Your knees? Your elbows? Your earlobes? Connect with your body and calm it down. Overcome the primal fight or flight part of the brain and correct the way your body responds. You are in charge, you are positive, you are confident, you are relaxed, and you WILL succeed!