Dealing with fear is a constant thing in my life. Fear is useful. It can keep you alive and healthy. But it can be crippling. It can keep you in situations that are ultimately bad for you and stop you taking on the world and making it your own.
But I’m getting better at dealing with it, so I thought I’d share some of my ways of coping with irrational fear…
1) Recognise it – if you don’t recognise fear, it’s got you. I find myself making excuses about why I won’t do something. I haven’t had time to book that ticket, I’ll have more time to do something later, etc, etc. I get tetchy and think I’m too tired to do what I need to do. I procrastinate until I run out of time to do something. I set myself up to fail with conflicting or impossible targets. I tell myself that I don’t really mind, that something won’t be as fun as everyone makes out. These are all ways fear tries to trick my subconscious mind into avoiding a situation. If I spot myself doing any of these things, a siren sounds in my head and I try to get myself into fighting mode.
2) Never give up fighting – from the day I decided to go to Nepal, I’ve been a bit scared. It took me weeks to get round to buying the ticket. But even then, the fear kept trying to get me. I didn’t get round to having my immunisations until it was nearly too late. I tried to change my ticket to put it off a few more days and I’ve even thought about not going all together. I don’t have to go. I’d love to just jump in the van and drive back to France for the rest of the winter season. The snow’s amazing, the mountains are beautiful and I’d have a fantastic time! And that would be fear winning and me losing. And I don’t like losing!
3) Get help – I would not be where I am now if it weren’t for the people I have around me. They egg me on. They help me recognise that what I’m feeling is just plain old boring terror. They talk about my ideas as if they’re really going to happen. They tell me that what I’m doing is awesome. And I believe them! I suppose I’ve always had people around me who would do this for me, but I never let them get that close – now they’re everywhere!
4) Take yourself by surprise – just say yes, don’t ask too many questions and get on with it. Do you ever trick yourself into getting out of the shower into the cold bathroom by turning the tap off on two while you’d told yourself you’d count to three? Or put your alarm clock onto snooze, then leap straight out of bed? It works for the big things too! There’s a reason why I haven’t don’t too much research about Nepal, why I don’t know where I’m staying when I get there or pretty much anything about the place – because all of a sudden, I have 11 days to go and it’s actually happening! I hadn’t thought much about it until the other day, but now it really is going to happen and there’s nothing I can do about it!
5) Practice, practice, practice – do things that scare you. Start small and build it up gradually. I remember my first high flights when learning to fly – and that little knot of fear I still occasionally get when ground-handling in stronger conditions. And I remember the buzz afterwards! The satisfaction at overcoming my fear and the joy of experiencing something I’d only ever dreamt of before. Dealing with those things helped me deal with the bigger challenges I’ve had to take on over the past few years.
6) Bitter experience – I’ve always been strong, but I forgot that for a while. I let fear stop me doing things and keep me in a safe, secure situation. I don’t regret too much of that – those years have set me up well to do all the crazy things I’m doing now. But I do know from experience how sad it can make you if you’re not living your dreams and what you can miss out on. Knowing that gives me a choice – but no-one in their right minds would choose to make themselves miserable, so I can really only choose to keep facing the fear and live my dreams.
One of my favourite lines in a book is from the Beckoning Silence – Joe Simpson talking about his fears about climbing the Eiger. This was something he’d dreamt about and held in his mind for years. And in a slightly cynical moment he found himself thinking: “Don’t spoil the dream. It’s safer that way.” And just as that spurred him on to take on one of the most challenging climbs in Europe, it spurs me on to tackle my fears – whether it’s going to Nepal, starting a new relationship, or just getting out of bed in the morning, I refuse to take the safer option and I won’t admit defeat. Not until I’m actually beaten…
Nepal photo thanks to m_bartosch