Despite appearances, I woke up with a huge fear hangover today. I don’t have a pounding headache or an upset stomach, but I have other symptoms that linger. Frustration with myself. Feelings of inadequacy. A long list of self-recriminations.
I had a big presentation yesterday, and by my own standards, I blew it. While I appeared calm and in control, I was anything but. I got so nervous that my voice went up at least two octaves. When asked questions, I felt wholly unprepared, even though I knew more about the topic than anyone else in the room. I even got a little defensive, which is a telltale sign that I was afraid.
In short, my fears got the best of me, which brought out the worst of me.
The good news is that finding a fix for my fear hangover isn’t that hard. Similar to a real hangover, it can be as easy as taking a Tylenol. Or putting on this prescription-grade Emergency Clown Nose that I bought on Amazon for $8.50, which I like to do when I’m feeling especially fearful.
In a previous post, I shared how you can leverage your superpowers to be brave. But what happens if you do all that and still find yourself afraid? Or hungover after a hard night of fear-bingeing? Here is a four-step Fear Fix Rx formulated just for you.
Fear Fix Rx
Step 1: Identify your fears by asking, “What am I afraid of?” Realizing that you are experiencing fear is the first step, and it’s such a big one that once you get this far, you are more than halfway there.
A natural shape-shifter, fear likes to show up as different emotions so that it can do its dirty work in your subconscious. Going back to my big presentation yesterday, rather than feeling fear when I left the meeting, I felt frustrated. I was frustrated at myself for flubbing my lines, frustrated at my colleagues for asking such good questions, and frustrated that I even had to do the presentation in the first place.
But under that frustration was fear. Fear of being perceived as incompetent, specifically.
What’s under our stress and overwhelm? Fear of failure.
What’s really happening when we are disappointed? Fear that we made a bad choice.
What’s under our anger, blame, and judgement? Fear, fear, fear.
Try it yourself the next time you’re feeling anything less than positive. Distill the emotion down to what you think it is (frustration, stress, overwhelm, etc.) and then ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” You will always, always have an answer to that question.
Step 2: From there, ask yourself the next question, “How does this fear make me feel?” I know it may seem pointless to put any brainpower behind this question, but you must. Because oftentimes, we underestimate the awful feelings that fear inspires in us, assuming that it just makes us feel “kinda bad.”
Fear does much more than make me feel “kinda bad.” Having to stand in a long line at Starbucks makes me feel kinda bad. Not having time to eat lunch before my 1 p.m. conference call makes me feel kinda bad. Forgetting to give my dogs their monthly heartworm pill makes me feel kinda bad.
But fear? It makes me feel…
Well, like I’m a horrible mother/wife/employee/dog owner and my life is hopeless.
That’s how “kinda bad” fear actually feels. So take a second to jot down how these fears make you feel. Writing is critical to this step because we get the crazy out of our heads and onto a piece of paper.
Step 3: Ask yourself, “Do I want to feel differently?” This is actually a pretty easy step. Simply read the list of nonsense that you wrote down, ask yourself, “Do I want to feel differently?” and get ready for a big, loud, “YASSSSS.”
And if you’re not sure whether or not you want to feel differently, you have a couple of options:
- Go back to Step #2 and actually do it this time. I guarantee that if you’re honest with yourself, there’s plenty of material to make you want to feel differently.
- If that fails, ask yourself, “What will happen if I keep feeling this way?” Who might you become? How might this limit you? What will this do to your life?
I had to take this second option a couple of weeks ago when I realized that it was time for me to overcome my fears about Amplify. I was afraid that the program might fail or that it might become too overwhelming to manage.
So I asked myself, “What will happen if I keep feeling this way?” and my answers were pretty profound.
- I’ll cheat myself and the women in the program from reaching our full potential.
- I’ll be a bad role model for my twelve year-old daughter who looks to me for inspiration.
- I’ll succumb to the patriarchy and, even worse, reinforce and perpetuate it. (Gasp)
After reviewing that list and asking, “Do I want to feel differently?” I was super-duper clear that fear was not my friend and I was ready for the last step.
Step 4: Do something – anything – that makes you feel differently. The goal here isn’t to use logic or positive self-talk to feel differently. These approaches keep you in your head, which is exactly where you don’t want to be. (Remember, that’s where all the scary stuff from Step #2 hangs out, so get out as fast as you can.) Rather than think ourselves out, we need to feel ourselves out.
I’ve tried lots of different approaches, but my go-to Fear Fix Rx is to put on a clown nose and rehash my fears with my gal pals. It soon becomes impossible for me to take myself – or my fears – seriously any more. And while my fears don’t disappear entirely, they get smaller, much more to scale.
The mind-body connection isn’t just a one way street routing information from the brain to the body. It’s a two-way street, but in our brain-centered, rational world, we are taught to deny the body’s significance. However, getting a hug makes us feel good, sitting in a cold car makes my daughter feel sad, and putting on a clown nose makes me feel…happy.
And as I feel better, I am able to think better, too. I get more clarity, shift to a place of strength rather than weakness, and get over myself. Just like that.
If putting on a clown nose isn’t quite your speed, here are a few other ideas:
- Help someone else feel better. Take a page out of the Dali Lama’s playbook and shift your focus from yourself to others. Not only is this a wonderful thing to do, it’s also a great way to get perspective.
- Make a list of things you’re grateful for. Take a page out of Oprah’s gratitude journal and write down everything you love about your life. It’s actually impossible to hold fear and gratitude in your mind at the same time.
- Notice 5 items in your office and say out loud what you see. This simple mindfulness practice pulls your attention into the physical world and out of the imaginary world where your fears reign supreme.
- And if all else fails, watch something fun on YouTube like this video with the cutest animals on the planet.
Fear is a chronic dis-ease with no known cure, so find your own Fear Fix Rx and take it daily until your symptoms disappear. There are zero side effects beyond changing the world one woman at a time.
Alexis Kanda-Olmstead is a lover of books, Beyoncé, and really sharp #2 pencils. She leads talent management and employee engagement efforts at Dartmouth College and coordinates Amplify, a CASE D1 venture-funded women and gender initiative. Alexis holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Studies from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and a certificate in Organization Development from Colorado State University. She is a certified StrengthsFinder Educator and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Practitioner, TEDx speaker, and feminist mommy blogger. She doesn’t have any hobbies per se, unless you count trying to change the world for women and girls.