Choose Courage Instead of Reacting in Fear

Fear can become a habit. Decide to be strong and courageous instead.

Posted Apr 09, 2018

Aitoff/Pixabay
Source: Aitoff/Pixabay

“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” - Sir Winston Churchill

I recently heard it said that one of the best things you can learn in life is to face what you fear with strength and courage.

It truly is a decision to take that posture. Many of us don’t quite realize that, especially anxious types (like myself).

I have been faced with a stressful workplace situation since last summer. It’s an administrative process that doctors dread.  It takes a lot of extra time and typically causes significant stress. When I first learned our office had to go through this, I was dismayed.

Since it’s the sort of thing that one is justified in being worked up about, it’s easy to get worked up. After all, you’re supposed to. You feel anxious, you commiserate with colleagues about being anxious, you tell other people in your life how anxious you are. Everyone gets it. After all, this is a dreaded “big thing” that people get worked up about.

The reality of it, though, is quite fascinating to observe. Really, there is no true threat. It’s inconvenient, that’s for sure, but we are going to come out the other end just fine. It'll be a whiff of a memory in a few years. And even if things went poorly, which is unlikely, would it be the end of the world?

No.

When I heard those words of wisdom I mentioned earlier, that we must choose to be strong and courageous in the face of things that scare or intimidate us, it hit me that this truly is something that we can choose.

You don’t have to wait to feel strong and courageous. You don’t have to look for evidence that it is reasonable to be strong and courageous (though it helps).

You can, in an instant, choose to uncurl yourself from a defensive, victim-y, shrinking posture and stand up.  Decide to face it with strength, dignity and courage.  And that’s it. No more trembling, no more worst-casing. Just accept it and decide to face it well. From your full height.

As mentioned above, I am an anxious person.  I’ll let my (often unfounded) fears take up too much real estate in my mind and body if I’m not vigilant against it.

I prefer to run away from stressful/scary things and avoid conflict. It’s my automatic default when something intimates me or gives me reason to conjure up vague fears. When I don’t have the option of physically retreating, inside it can feel like I’m still running away screaming. It’s not a comfortable feeling, especially if a situation goes on for months. And I won’t even get started about the impact of stress hormones raging in the body for that long, or that frequently over a lifetime.

Of course, there are situations where fleeing is an appropriate response. These, thankfully, are rare for most of us. I have been through some truly flee-worthy situations in my life, which partly explains why I now overreact to more benign situations.

In most situations that scare you, though (presuming you’ve spoken to your doctor or other qualified mental health professional about this and there isn’t something more serious going on, like severe PTSD), it would serve you well to gather your strength and tell yourself to take courage, to be unafraid and face it. Tell yourself that it will be ok, that you will be ok.  Because it most likely will be ok.

Even if things don’t work out for the best, is it any more helpful to be wracked with fear and worry while you are going through ______ ? (insert stressful or fear-provoking situation)

Refuse to let fear take over, especially if you have a tendency to worry about everything (like me!).

When you imagine a potential stressful confrontation or situation, visualize yourself facing it with calm strength and courage (rather than imagining all the things that could go wrong). It defuses the situation instantly. Not only that, it significantly increases the probability that when the situation comes along in real time, you will handle it much better.

With this particular situation I am facing, I feel like I’ve ripped the mask off the (fake) monster. I am “supposed” to be worked up and stressed, but I can’t really get properly worked up anymore, since I know that it will be fine. I know that I can and will face it with dignity and strength. In this case feeling fearful, and talking to everyone about being fearful a la Chicken Little, is really more of a habit than anything else. 

Is that the case for you, too?

Give it a try. Even if reacting with fear has been a life-long habit, you can change it. Take the mask off the monster and look it straight in the eye. You can even try laughing.

Oh, what a difference it makes.

Copyright Dr. Susan Biali Haas 2018

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