Before I did the CN Tower EdgeWalk, I chatted with Lauren Berger. The Toronto based social worker, shared her favourite strategies for overcoming fear. (The text in italics is from me. I wanted to let you know how I put her tips to the test.)
Fear is a natural human emotion that we all feel at one time or another. Fear can be healthy; it keeps us protected from dangerous situations by telling us to stay away. But what do you do when you feel fearful of something that you’ve got to do… or maybe even really want to do? (Hello, skydiving!) It is possible to reduce anxiety and minimize feelings of fear. Here are my top five tips to help you buck up and tackle your fears:
1) Ask Yourself Why. What is the purpose of doing this thing? Without a purpose, you lack motivation. If you lack motivation, why on earth would you put yourself through the fear of attempting this task? If your goal is to get on an airplane even though you fear flying, why do you want to do that? Finally take that vacation? Watch your sister walk down the aisle at her destination wedding? Represent your company at that important conference? Figure out why it matters to you and remind yourself of these reasons on a daily basis. Jot them down on a Post-It and stick it to your bathroom mirror, or create a memo in your smartphone that you can refer to during your commute or break time. Frequent reminders of the real reason you’re doing something keeps you motivated and focused on the bigger picture.
My purpose for doing the EdgeWalk was to push myself out of my comfort zone and prove to myself that I could do it. It mattered to me for my own personal sense of pride and accomplishment. I also wanted to do it to inspire people to do something that scares them, in their own lives. I knew if I didn’t actually complete the task, I wouldn’t exactly be the best role model for facing your fears!
2) Get support. Whether you choose to share your goal with one person or everyone on Facebook, put it out there that you are doing something big and need support. Your partner, family members, and best friends are great examples of supporters. Let them be your cheerleaders! Tell them what it is you need: a daily text reminding you you’re awesomely brave? Their friendly faces in your audience? A strong arm to guide you if you attempt an escape? We all need a little help at times, so rally the troops and enlist your army of supporters.
I brought my sister on the EdgeWalk for support. I was initially going to go alone, but I am so glad I didn’t. I was so much more relaxed with her there, and it made the experience more fun since I had someone to share it with. My sister knew that I needed positive encouragement, which she gave to me the whole time, without ever being pushy. Having a support system when doing anything that feels scary or uncomfortable is definitely a key factor in being able to do it.
3) And support yourself! Affirmations are an excellent way to remind yourself of how capable you are. When we’re scared, our self-talk (AKA inner dialogue) is annoyingly negative. You may catch yourself saying things in your head like, “There is no way I can do this!” That’s not at all helpful to your cause. Instead, imagine your best friend; what would that person say to you to help you through your fear? Now, say that to yourself. Bonus points for saying your affirmations out loud and while looking yourself in the eye through a mirror. Eye contact (yes, even with yourself) makes words much more convincing. Say it with me now: I am brave, capable, and excited to try this new adventure!
I did try to think positive, motivational thoughts in my head when I was getting ready to start the walk. “You can do this, it’s no big deal. This isn’t the scariest thing you’ve ever done. You’ve got this.” That being said, though, when I was actually doing the walk, it was very difficult to maintain those thoughts as my internal dialogue started to jump to a darker place. I really have to work on this step of the process.
4) Jump on the bandwagon. This is one case when, “Hey, everybody else is doing it!” is a valid argument. Often, recognizing that others have already done the things that you want to do makes those activities seem more achievable. Feeling like you’re a pioneer can be scary! Instead, remind yourself that there are many who have gone before you, and they’ve made it through to the other side. You’re not really the first person to fly in an airplane, are you? Yours isn’t your dental surgeon’s first root canal, is it? Didn’t think so. So jump on the bandwagon, and remind yourself that you’re not alone!
Jumping on the bandwagon definitely helped. I kept reminding myself that so many people had already done what I was about to do. No one fell off the edge and had a tragic ending, so why would I be any different? Thinking that way really helps, in so many aspects of life.
5) Breathe. Want a zero-cost, instant, side effect-free anxiety medication? Look no further than the tip of your nose. Deep breathing is one of the body’s ultimate calming mechanisms that works to regulate your heart rate and hormones like adrenaline. Give this a try: Breathe in through your nose very slowly for a count of five, then exhale through your mouth (or nose, if you prefer) equally slowly, counting to five. When breathing, focus on filling the lower lobes of your lungs with this cool, calming air. You want to notice your belly expand like a balloon. When practicing, put your hand on your belly to feel if your abdomen is expanding. Once you’ve mastered this easy technique, you’ll always have your all-natural anxiety “medicine” available to you! Also, it’s pretty inconspicuous, so if public speaking has you ready to run off stage, focus on breathing deeply in and out… No one will even realize you’re doing it. Breathe easy!
I hate to admit it, but I think I majorly failed with this last step. I was very focused on listening to the instructions and looking at the terrifying plunge in front of me and trying so hard to be brave, that I really wasn’t focused enough on my breathing. I’m a big believer in using the breath to calm your anxiety, and I try to be conscious of it in my daily life. It definitely helps. But unfortunately, it wasn’t top of mind in that moment, so that’s something I’m going to try to be aware of the next time I’m in a nerve-wracking situation. Now that you’re prepared with these five tips, go out, conquer your fear, and make yourself proud! Victory never tasted so good.
Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker providing counselling and psychotherapy at the Integrative Health Institute in downtown Toronto. Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW.
Hey ELLE Canada readers! What are your biggest fears and do they hold you back from doing things you want to do? How do you cope? I’d love to hear what strategies you use to deal with your fears and how they have helped you. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Or, if 140 characters is more your speed, hop on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #lifereboot. Hopefully we can all join forces and inspire one another to take a risk (at least a very small risk – baby steps!).