Redefining Fear
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Health and Wellness

Redefining Fear

Transforming Fear From Depletion into Ignition

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Redefining Fear
Leah Raaflaub

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt

“When was the last time you felt fear?” I had been explaining to my friend how I had recently felt that I was in some sort of rut, as if I was coasting along through life not sure how to get out of it, when he interrupted abruptly and asked me … “When was the last time you truly felt fear?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.

“Just answer the question, Leah. When was the last time you were entirely drowning in fear? Not just a little scared, but completely consumed with fear, with the unknown, like really, really, scared?”

Surprisingly, the answer came immediately. I didn’t have to go into the depths of my mind to find it, I knew precisely, to a pinpoint, the last time I felt scared. I remember it very clearly. It was exactly one year ago. I had just arrived in Buenos Aires, after 24+ hours of travel, I stood in my small apartment, I looked around, and it smacked me in the face like a sudden burst of cold water. All the planning throughout the year prior to actually get myself to Argentina, all the financial saving, all the tearful goodbyes in Denver, and now I was actually here… with no plan whatsoever and not knowing a single soul out of the 13 million inhabitants of the city. I remember physically feeling my heart begin to race, and sensing my adrenaline soaring through my body…. I was terrified.

My friend looked at me, “And aside from feeling fear, if you take that out of the equation, how did you feel?”

I hadn’t given much thought to how I felt aside from fear in that moment… I mean, wasn’t that the primary cause of my speeding heart and racing adrenaline? If I really focused in on it, and took away the fear from that moment…. I guess you could say I felt… alive. If I removed the panic that had taken front stage when I arrived in Buenos Aires, I would be able to see that underneath all the dread, I was entirely open in that moment, I was vulnerable, I was scared, and I felt really alive.

And what did I choose to do in this situation, in Buenos Aires? I ran right into it, full speed, and if we’re being blatantly honest, it’s really because I had no other choice. It’s not because I was courageous or brave, it’s because I had no backup plan. Hell, forget backup plan… I had no plan whatsoever. I knew I could either jump in entirely, confronting every fear I had head on, or I could hide. I could hide from everything that scared me and miss out on this experience of living abroad.

So why then, if I was able to tackle my fears while living in a foreign country, could I not tackle them in my hometown? My own turf, where life is comfortable and normal and the biggest thing throwing my day off is a traffic jam? How did I let fear take over my life when I came back to Denver? It snuck up on me… but eventually managed to take complete control, and until my friend called me out on it, I hadn’t realized it.

I have not felt true fear in over a year. I have not felt that openness, that vulnerability, that sensation of taking a risk… in over a year. When I returned to Denver, my beautiful city that I love so much, I settled right back into my comfortable ways, and I lost my flight or fight attitude. I lost it because it is not required of me, it’s not being demanded that I grow daily here, in the place that I know like the back of my hand. I lost my fight. And primarily due to the fact that I had absolutely no fear in my life whatsoever. Which sounds odd, right? Who desires fear as something constant in their lives? After talking to my friend, I have delved into the subject of fear, and realized that on the surface fear sounds like a bad thing, but the more I look at it, the more I realize how parallel it is to growth. How necessary it is to transformation, how vital it is to living life. I’ve reevaluated how I define fear, what is does for me, and how powerful or dangerous it can be, depending on how I utilize it.

DANGER VERSUS FEAR

Danger and fear are not the same. For me, learning this completely changed my perspective. I had always assumed these two were the same, when in fact, they are completely different. Danger is when there is an actual, physical threat at hand, launching a stressful stimulus in the body causing a release of chemicals triggering an emotional response. Someone trying to break into your home and kill you? Danger. Braking your vehicle to swerve out of oncoming traffic and avoid a potential accident? Danger. Being chased by a lion (I get it, we live in Denver, chances are small, but I’m trying to prove a point, here)? Danger.

Fear, on the other hand, I truly feel, is mentally created. It is an imagined creation of something that has not happened yet, and may never happen. Think about it. When you are living in fear, where do your thoughts lie? The past or the future? I’ve never sincerely thought about this, and it was like a lightbulb moment for me when I realized I never associate fear with any past events…fear, for me, only exists in the future. Let me expand on this.

I can create a slew of ugly emotions when I am thinking about the past… pain, regret, shame…but fear never arises. Why? Because these events have already taken place, and no matter how painful the past might have been, they are, in essence, over and done with. If fear is existent whatsoever in relation to the past, it is only in a worried state that it might happen again, and we might feel the ugly emotions that were created from the first experience. But here’s the thing: the fear is created by YOU, over things that have not even happened and might never happen. Fear is imaginary, which isn’t to say it isn’t valid, but I believe it’s necessary to use fear as a tool rather than a hindrance.

USE FEAR TO YOUR BENEFIT

Being that fear is mentally created, it can be mentally controlled. In my experience, and unfortunately to my disadvantage, I have used fear more often than not as a negative force. And let me tell you, when you succumb to fear, letting it consume you and whisper false, terrible what if circumstances in your ear, it can be an awful force. You see, fear is incredibly powerful, but it can sway onto either side of good or bad, depending on how you interpret it in your mind, and in turn, how you mold that into your life. If you take the lower road, you allow fear to cloud over you, listening and believing all the made-up what if’s in your head. What if I fail? What if I end up alone? What if I am not capable? As humans, we are ingrained with wild imaginations, minds that can create amazing things, minds that are capable of predicting positive outcomes. Unfortunately, we are more often than not, swayed into imagining the negative outcomes, and our beautiful imaginations are suddenly our worst enemy. I could ask that guy out… he could say yes, or… he could laugh in my face. He could deny me. He could give me a false number. In a matter of minutes, our minds have the ability of generating dozens of negative situations, that haven’t occurred and might not ever occur.

Fear, in this sense, can affect us so much, that it paralyzes us into lack of action whatsoever, which, in my opinion is the absolute worst. I know this from experience. You create so many false ideas in your head, grown from seeds of fear, that you launch yourself into a paused state of being, of inaction, of missing out on life. When you live this way, inactive, scared and succumbing to all the negative what if’s, you put yourself on the sideline without even being aware of it, watching life, and not actually playing the game. And that, in my opinion, IS something to be truly fearful of.

I would say it is pretty hard to avoid fears from entering your subconscious whatsoever, in fact, I believe that is nearly impossible. Fears are going to pop into your mind, it is human nature, and as human beings, we are wired for survival, being that, fear is a necessary component. Move forward anyway. Tackle the fear anyway. Take the risk anyway. Jump in anyway. Remember, fears are of your mental creation, so if they are not igniting you to grow in some way, you must take a closer look at them so that you can benefit and not wither from them.

ACKNOWLEDGE FEAR BUT DO NOT FEED IT

A while back, I had some loose ends that I needed to tie up at my university, which included an email that needed to be sent off to a professor. Primarily for the fact that I had put the task off for so long, and other small reasons, I was so scared to send this seemingly simple email. I imagined the professor responding with an irate message going off on how I should have contacted him sooner. I pictured him taking away all my college credits and punishing me to semesters more of schooling. I thought he would tell me I needed to spend a year in some underdeveloped country as castigation for not contacting him sooner (okay, I didn’t go this far, but really, looking back on how much imagination I poured into this, how much fear I created all on my own, it’s not too far-fetched). My mind didn’t only acknowledge this fear of sending this email, which would’ve been alright, but I fed on it. I let it grow and grow for months upon months, allowing the seeds of fear to grow into weeds that took over my mind entirely. Every time I thought of this silly little email, this small task that I had put off, it became this giant monster in my mind. When I finally gathered the courage to send out this ever so dreaded correspondence, I got a response within an hour.

Hi Leah!

So wonderful to hear from you! I totally understand your situation, life happens! Stop by my office when you have some time so we can sort everything out and get your credits aligned where they need to be!

Look forward to seeing you!

Seriously. Seriously??? I had put that off for months upon months, terrified of his response, and this was it?! Good God. I had fed my fear until it consumed me and didn’t even touch with reality. I allowed it to become something that wasn’t even close to the truth.

Looking at your fears is a good thing. I think when you ask yourself what exactly it is that you are afraid of, you can learn a lot from the answers that come. It can show you what you desire. It can guide you towards an action that needs to be taken. If you confront it, it can be the best teacher of just exactly what you are capable of. But there is a fine line. The fine line that just over the hedge leads into feeding the fear, allowing it to grow and consume you, to belittle you instead of fuel you, to make you focus on your weaknesses not your strengths, to cement you into inactivity instead of allowing you to be free and live.

Don’t cross the line. It’s that simple, do not cross the line.

FEAR MEANS GROWTH

Warm, fuzzy feelings do not come to mind when I think of the word fear. Fear is an uncomfortable emotion that I don’t believe anyone really enjoys. Although, when I look back to the times that I have been most fearful, they are the times I have grown the most. I know this sounds sickeningly cliché, but I find it to be true. When I began high school. When my first boyfriend and I broke up. When I left home to go to college. When I studied abroad in Spain. When I moved to Argentina. When I reflect on all these moments, I think of how exciting and transformative they were for me…but I forget so quickly, these times also were when I was scared beyond belief. The growth and good that came from these changes, are so prominent, that I forget that they started out not as amazing life steps that made me grow, but as seeds of immense fear. Fear is usually the first step in change, in growth, in really incredible transformations, but it’s hard to see that when it’s still at its starting point as nothing more than a bundle of fear.

When I am fearful I am also being challenged. I am usually in new territory. More often than not, during these times I am swimming around in the unknown. I am unsure, and scared. But I always, always, always come out better for it. Stronger. Wiser. Tougher. Fear is a necessary ingredient to growth, and I truly feel that if you are not growing, in any tiny way whatsoever, ultimately you are not living. Do the math. Next time you feel scared, as difficult as it may be to do right in the moment of ugliness, try and hold onto that faith that this is just the beginning of a transformation, of change, of growth for you.

LET FEAR DIRECT YOU NOT DETER YOU

Fear is a super powerful force that can positively transform you or completely deplete you. It is all dependent on how YOU choose to use it. Let fear guide you, let it show you what it is you truly want, and let it surprise you by showing you capabilities you never even knew existed within you. Do not let it run wildly through your imagination creating pseudo situations that paralyze you from taking action. Let fear direct you, not deter you.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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