A Letter To Fear
Over the past few days I have had a bubbling up of anxiety, of fear. I have been uncomfortable. Something's just not been quite right and I haven't managed to put my finger on it.
Everything looks pretty much OK, I'm getting my work done, I'm eating healthy meals, I'm getting to meetings, I'm talking with friends and family, hell, I even spent 2 hours on Saturday morning picking up trash on the beach with the community beach clean, but there's a nagging discomfort, a low-level buzz in the back of my mind that I'm doing everything to ignore.
That, my friends, is fear.
Most of us are in conflict with fear. I know I am. When it crops up, I try to ignore it. I pretend it's not there and I believe that if I just ignore it for long enough, it will go away. If I cover it up with a "Positive Mental Attitude" then it will leave me alone.
But it doesn't. If choose to deal with fear the way I have always dealt with fear, suppressing it to the best of my ability, then I react in a way that is detrimental to my life.
Let me go back to how I have behaved over the last few days. Yes, I did all of the normal things that I listed above, but I also binge-watched The Vampire Diaries on Netflix and snapped at my family and isolated for as long as I thought I could get away with.
I wasn't capable of co-creating my life with the universe. I was in batten-down-the-hatches survival mode. That is my reaction to fear. I'm so desperate to avoid it that it paralyses me.
So what if it could be different?
What if instead of avoiding fear, we learned to sit with it? To give it the space that it deserves.
Fear is part of what makes us human. We will experience fear. Fear is the reason that our ancestors lived long enough to procreate. Fear is the reason (most of us) don't jump off of cliffs for fun. Fear is ancient and ancestral. It keeps us alive.
So here's another radical solution, the letter to fear.
This exercise is inspired by the work of Kristen Ulmer, Jafree Ozwald and Elizabeth Gilbert and is essentially an opportunity to put down our weapons and cease fighting fear, for that is a battle we always lose.
Put a timer on for 5 minutes and write a letter to fear. It starts like this:
Ok. I'm ready. Thanks for letting me know that you have stuff going on. I'm sorry that I haven't been listening and that I've been doing everything I can to ignore you.
I realise that you have stuff to say that I need to listen to, and I'm ready to listen now. Tell me everything."
Breathe in and breathe out slowly, exhaling all the air in your body and breathe in again.
And then write a list of all of the things you are afraid of until the timer goes off.
When you have finished writing, it's worth taking a moment to really sit with the fears and feel them in your body. What does that feel like? Tension in the chest? Heart palpitations? Dry or constricted throat? Just notice what it feels like.
Fear and anxiety are physiologically very similar to excitement. It feels similar in the body and we can use the energy that fear creates in order to do the things that will give us more success and happiness in life. If one of your fears is the fear of failure, how about using that energy to have a really productive day at work? If it's a fear of not being liked, how about using that energy to do something kind for another human today (without getting found out!)?
When you notice how you can work with fear, rather than against it, it's time to thank fear for sharing. My letter ended like this:
"Thanks for letting me know and thanks for doing such a great job.
Lots of love,
May you always do what you are afraid to do.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
And then do the thing you are afraid to do.
If you give it a try, let me know how you get on!