5 Ways to Start Living Fearlessly
4. Stop imagining the worst-case scenario.
Posted Jan 30, 2017
It’s not easy to be fearless. Almost daily, we see tragedy, trauma, and injustice in many forms and experience strong emotions in response. When fear and anger come up, we may want look outside ourselves to find safety and predictability, but as circumstances change rapidly, it can be difficult to find solace.
Living in this chronic state of stress takes a tremendous toll on our minds and bodies. The mental stress of feeling fear can lead us to make poor decisions. Our attention gets narrower and focuses on trying to find possible threats, which can perpetuate a feeling of distress. When we are afraid, we’re less able to accurately assess situations and take reasonable action.
This is an invitation to master your fears and not be controlled by them. By being unafraid ourselves, we can help make the lives of others — our families, our communities — and the world in general a safer place.
Five research-supported ways to get out of fear and feel safer right now.
1. Claim your own fear and anger.
By claiming it, you have the power to change it. Often anger is a defense against feeling fear. If we deny our strong negative emotions, they don’t go away. Other people can often sense them, and we’re more likely to project them onto other people and situations. Name, claim, and release your negative emotions in a safe way. Simply talking with a trusted friend about your concerns can make a big difference. On the other hand, research shows that techniques like catharsis, in which you act out your aggression, actually make people more aggressive and create less safety generally.
2. Vibe like you’re a safe person.
Consider that whatever you notice is lacking in a situation is often what you can contribute to it. Waiting for other people to help you feel safe creates the kind of dependence on external circumstances that won’t lead to a lasting sense of security. Feel your own goodness and your positive intention, and let others feel it, too. This will signal to others that you’re a safe person and help them relax, and it’ll build trust in your relationships and everyday encounters.
3. Look for the good in others.
Fear creates an urge to isolate and cut ourselves off from those who seem different from us. When we feel threatened, we’re more susceptible to de-humanizing members of groups we don’t identify with and may look to blame them for the difficulties. This makes everyone feel more afraid. If you’re a member of a group that has been targeted in a way that feels threatening or know people in such a group, make a point to reflect the humanity and goodness back to members of that group. See the positive connections between yourself and other people, and focus on connecting through your common values.
4. Don’t imagine the worst-case scenario.
People often run the worst-case scenario in their minds because they think that preparing for the worst will somehow make them feel better. But research shows it usually just creates more anxiety, because your fear is not created by the actual situation but by your thoughts about it. By imagining the worst-case scenario, we literally run the experience through our bodies and minds as if it were actually happening. So we start responding as though the feared event is taking place – which can lead to unnecessary stress. And the more anxious we are, the fewer cognitive resources we have to make good decisions in the moment.
5. Be proactive and stay connected.
Resist the temptation to isolate yourself or to think that you’re the only one feeling afraid. Have a plan in place for what to do when you start to feel anxious or afraid. Decide what you will do (e.g., call a supportive friend) and what you won’t do (e.g., post something on social media). Make a “feel safe” text thread of two or three friends who share your desire to stay calm and relaxed throughout the day no matter what. Whenever news hits that challenges your sense of calm, remember you’re not alone: text them, check in throughout the day, send each other affirmations that all is well, and share your good will.
By managing your fear, you’ll be more effective in the actions you take to help bring about the changes you want to see in the world, because you’ll be taking mindful action instead of reacting based on your fears in the moment.
Join my Facebook group, called The Clear Mirror, to discuss this blog or ask questions. For more information on managing stress and seeing yourself and others with greater clarity, visit The Clear Mirror, follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and take the FREE 7-Day Mirror Meditation Challenge delivered via daily posts.
Copyright Tara Well, 2017, all rights reserved.
Brewer, M.B. (1999). The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love and outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues, 55, 429-444.
Bushman, B J, (2002). Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28 724-731.
Fredrickson, B. L., Cohen, M. A., & Coffey, K. A. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced lovingkindness, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045-1062.
Garland, E.L., Gaylord, S.A. & Fredrickson, B.L. (2011). Positive Reappraisal Mediates the Stress-Reductive Effects of Mindfulness: An Upward Spiral Process. Mindfulness, 2, 59-67.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. Revised edition. Bantam.
Salovey, P. (2000). Emotional States and Physical Health. American Psychologist, 55, 110-121.