The Circle Line

How to Overcome Your Fear

How do you experience and deal with anxiety?

What do you do when you’re scared? Do you tiptoe to the edge before dropping over it, sacrificially, like a lemming over a cliff? Do you march up to the edge only to rapidly run away three times first? Do you take three strides and a flying leap into the unknown?

Fear is pretty much always lurking. Whether it’s creeping unease, daily anxiety or deep terror – it’s elemental. We can’t do without it completely for sometimes it protects us and helps us survive.

Take a look at this film, Ten Meter Tower, capturing fear in various guises – it’s hilarious. And moving, fascinating, and inspiring.

But reaching our full potential is hard if we let fear control us. If it’s there stopping us speaking up (for fear of what others might think, for fear of embarrassing ourselves, for fear of being told ‘no’). If it’s there making us put things off, procrastinate, or obsess.

Anxiety usually centres around 3 things:

(Weak at times, annoying at times, selfish, sexual, mean, etc)

(Good enough, strong enough, clever enough, etc)

(Will I lose my job? Will she leave me? Will I get stuck in this lift? Will I ever be in love? Will my family get sick? Will this dog bite me? Will I be OK? etc)

Our fears often involve a hidden negative — a ‘don’t’ or a ‘can’t’. These deeper fears can underlie regular generalised anxiety. Sometimes, and this is the counterintuitive bit, they involve a “don’t” + something positive — “don’t succeed”, “don’t get close”. Often we’ve copied this from our parents, or we‘ve been subtly taught such warnings as kids and they’ve seeped in. This means they can be hard to uncover and to shake off – but it’s certainly not impossible.

Our Fears Show

Very often our fears have a consequence; they result in action, or inaction. So often when we’re acting “weirdly” or when we’re “stuck” and not taking any action at all, it’s our anxiety that’s at play, pulling invisible strings in the background of our brains and hearts.

Sometimes fear appears well concealed. When we dominate or behave arrogantly, these can be misinterpreted as signs of a strong character. But they’re not. They’re signs that we are overcompensating for some fear we have — perhaps we’re actually intimidated by someone, perhaps we’re scared we are inadequate (therefore we try too hard to prove we’re not), or we fear that we are weak or can’t cope (therefore we overcompensate by being arrogant, or playing “superhero”, or by bullying others to assert our power).

Some of our most powerful fears are the deep hidden ones, the ones we don’t even know are lurking. Fear of being alone. Fear of relying on people. Fear we’re not good enough. Fear of men. Fear of women. Fear that there’s something wrong with us.

Some of our fears get complicated. Like when we’re afraid of a relationship because we’re afraid to commit, because we’re ultimately afraid of making a choice, or being rejected or trapped, or finding — and therefore potentially losing — someone we actually, truly, love.

Anxiety is normal

All of these fears are of course totally normal. Anxiety is something we all have to go through at some point.

But if we don’t acknowledge and begin to do something to address our ongoing, recurring fears eventually they can escalate through the downward spiral ultimately to depression and victimhood:

Anxiety can be conquered

Here’s what’s great about the Ten Meter Tower film: in all its real, human, empathic jubilance it proves to us — visually and viscerally — that fear can be conquered.

Once we’ve seen what it is really that we are anxious about, and say it out loud — then often we find it’s power lessening, and we have more choice in how to deal with it. To creep to the edge. Perhaps to peer over, again and again to normalise things first, get used to the idea. Or to run and leap.

“When we voice our fear, its power lessens”

Whatever our method, this film shows how time and time again in all their different ways big and small, humans conquer their fears.

And like in this film, conquering always involves some kind of step. Whether it’s a 10 metre jump or the final tiny inch of a long and painful path, this small step forms a leap of spirit, of bravery, that proves to ourselves that we can do it — we just have to acknowledge first why we don’t. That’s half the battle won.

7 steps to deal with anxiety

Here are our 7 steps to getting closer to “the leap”:

  1. Get honest with yourself: What is it that you’re anxious about really? Really? And underneath that anxiety…? What’s the worst that you can imagine happening? Is that really so bad? Bad enough to never do the thing you’re afraid of? To let it hold you to ransom?
  2. List all the reasons ‘why’ you’re not doing something. Why are you anxious? Has the thing you are afraid of happened before? To you? Or to someone in your family? Does that mean it will definitely happen now? How likely is it to happen again?
  3. Action plan: What would you do in your worst case scenario? List all the ways you’d handle it.
  4. Recognise when you’re running away — and therefore letting anxiety control you. Some examples of avoiding are: silence; putting something off; standing people up; not turning up; walking away; ignoring someone or something; making a joke (often a good avoidance tactic); making excuses (“not now”, “too busy” etc). It’s ok if you need to do this for now, just acknowledge that you are doing it, helping to bring more awareness to your emotions and the reasons for them.
  5. Start small: take one tiny action in the direction you want to go in. If you usually walk away from the argument, stand there instead. If you hate the tube, take one stop on the District Line, above ground. If you’re scared of swimming, paddle knee-deep in the shallows. If you usually stay silent, speak up and say one sentence. Send your CV; apologise to your dad; have that argument with your wife. Or for now — just update your CV; email your dad; write a letter to your wife. Start small.
  6. Find the courage of your convictions: this one is the hardest. Believing in yourself. How do you “have conviction”? We can’t give you one answer here – because learning to trust yourself is your own journey, and it may take some time. But when you truly believe in yourself, you live that cliche of ‘having the courage of your convictions’; you feel in your entire self (your thoughts, emotions and your body) what is right for you — then you start to defeat your fears. You do it anyway. Because there is no other choice.
  7. Talk to a therapist: this helps with all of the above, particularly number 6. It can be very difficult to see what’s underlying our anxiety on our own. And we all need support through the tough things in life – which is a brave thing to own and take responsibility for.

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