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Has your relationship with fear changed during the pandemic?

Have economic downturns, job insecurity and social unrest during the pandemic transformed your once civil relationship with fear into something that’s become a bit more abusive? Fear, with its leery disposition and sharp tone, may have forced you into the tight spot between a wall and a hard place, leaving you stuck and stagnant with a cramp in your style.  Its reason: it wants to keep you safe from social, psychological, and any other harm you could experience in an uncertain world — even if keeping you safe means tethering you to old realities, limiting your growth, and stifling your ambition. 

Fear has a coercive way of keeping you focused on everything that could go wrong from taking a single step forward (failure, rejection, humiliation and judgment) in order to hold you in your place. 

But, you know the world is changing, and something needs to change for you. You need to take a risk that helps you elevate.  The only problem is that your fear doesn’t seem to be budging, and as a result, neither are you. That means getting yourself out of this debilitating cycle of inactivity comes down to one thing: building a healthier relationship with fear. 

If the pandemic has complicated your relationship with fear, consider these 5 ways to get back to a more productive place.

Pay attention to how fear operates.

While turning your head or burying your face between your hands might be knee-jerk reactions to dealing with conscious fear, you’ll do yourself a favor if you actually pay attention to it.  What you’ll see is paranoia masquerading as power, and what you’ll learn is that fear is not in the least bit sophisticated. In fear’s effort to fully protect you from pitfalls, it also will block your from your potential (if you let it). Fear is not refined enough to distinguish between obstacles and opportunities, so it does the only thing it can do and shields you from all of it. When you allow fear to lead, it takes charge by reducing everything in front of you, the bad and the good, to rubble. Once you understand this operating code, you can gain more clarity about how to adjust and adapt your approach to your relationship with fear to make it more equitable. 

Hear fear out.

It’s hard to listen in a relationship when the entity on the other end comes across as anxious and antagonistic. Even though fear annoys the heck out of you, you’ll encourage cooperation if you take a beat and hear fear out. What comes next is a diatribe about how unsafe, uncomfortable and unflattering the thing is that you want to explore. Your ears may start to ring from listening to the tedious streak of warnings, but there’s a plus side to hanging in there. When you hear fear out, you can start to digest what’s causing the most unease. Then, it becomes your turn to offer up food for thought for fear to chew on. To be clear, the entrée should be information, but not any ol’ piece of data will do. Fear starts to simmer down into a spell of satisfaction when you feed it facts that help it understand that you’ve got this. When you inform fear of your past successes taking similar actions, your strengths, your preparation, and your skills, you serve up the equivalent of a t-bone straight into fear’s belly, which can pacify it enough to allow you to move past go.    

Eliminate separation as an option.  

Wishing that fear would simply go away is energy irresponsibly spent because it’s unlikely to happen — not for long, at least. You and fear are like Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Jada Pinkett and Will Smith. You are entangled. That reality leaves you and fear to deal with each other, to commit.  When you mentally remove the option of leaving fear behind, you create space to figure out how exactly to get along. You become solutions oriented. And, maybe that means you’ll need to establish a few ground rules, also known as boundaries. Setting up boundaries could come in the form of giving yourself a time limit to listen to fear’s grievances or allowing fear to come along for your ride if it promises to behave in the backseat. There’s no limit to how creative you can get to make your relationship with fear work when you accept that running away from it is not a viable option.

Have a laugh.

Relationship experts agree that a good sense of humor is foundational to a healthy relationship, which means your relationship with fear should include a lot of laughter. That laughter, for clarity’s sake, should be directed at … yourself. When you feel yourself spiraling into a loop of negativity because of something fear has said or compelled you to do, pause. And, laugh. Take it upon yourself to release the tension, confusion and awkwardness sitting on your shoulders with a hearty, honest cackle. In the process, you may also suspend the feeling of unease long enough to recognize the irrationality of fear’s hype and give yourself an entry point into resetting the energy in the relationship. 

See fear for what it is.

You’ve heard before that good relationships allow participants to be their true selves. Your relationship with fear is no different. An important question to ask yourself is whether you have constructed fear into something that it is not, preventing it from doing what it does best. When you spend real time on that question, you may realize that your stuckness and stagnation is not really because of fear. It’s because of your cognitive response to how you see fear. There’s no doubt that fear can get beside itself and cause a fuss, but that doesn’t mean it’s fully responsible for your paralyzation. Research says that fear “acts as a signal of danger, threat, or motivational conflict.” But, it’s up to you to determine what kind of signal fear is really sending off. Fear isn’t necessarily the red flashing light commanding you to stop, turn around or hide in a corner until the coast is clear.  Fear, instead, can be the yellow light that wants you to slow down and be cautious (sometimes too cautious). This means that, at least, some of the work needed to improve your relationship with fear involves refocusing your gaze and seeing fear for what it is. 

The Bottom Line

The uncertainty and turbulence of the pandemic may have thrown your relationship with fear into a tailspin, leaving you with a heightened sense of urgency to make it better. In your committed effort to work on your relationship, be sure to pay attention to how fear operates. Understanding how it moves will help you tailor your approach when confronting it. You can also improve the relationship by listening to your fear. Hearing it out helps you to have effective dialogue. As badly as you’d like to break up with your fear forever, try to eliminate the thought of divorce from your consideration. Fear is here to stay, so your energy is better spend figuring out how to live with it. Accept fear for what it is. Don’t expect anything more or less from it than what it offers.  And lastly, laugh at yourself when you become overwhelmed with fear. The lightness of a laugh can help you to recalibrate the energy circulating between you and your fear.  

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