FOCUS ON HEALTH
By Julie Christiansen
I have heard fear described as “false expectations appearing real.” In other words, fear is the culmination of those things you anticipate could happen, but never do. Just as faith is described as a belief or a certainty that something positive or good will happen, fear is the belief or certainty that the worst will happen.
Would you rather live your life in anticipation? Or in trepidation? Fear has got to be one of the worst feelings to experience.
On a trip to Newfoundland with a large group of friends, one of our group decided to take us on a tour of his old stomping grounds. We followed him off the highway down a narrow dirt road, shrouded by bushes and saplings. After we had all parked, he started us off down a dirt trail and into the bush. He didn’t tell us where we were headed – just “someplace he had to show us”. Although we were a little concerned with his secrecy, we kept on following because we trusted him. Not 500 meters into the trail, he stopped and pointed down. “Take a look at this,” he said, pointing to a fresh bear track in the moist dirt. “That’s fresh – but don’t worry. It is a small bear – likely a cub. If he’s with his mother, they won’t come near us.”
For a moment, I felt that familiar sensation of fear rising in my gut, and I could tell I wasn’t alone. After all, my three kids were with me, along with a whole bunch of other people’s kids! As if on cue, he turned to us and said, “Look, I grew up hanging out in this bush. If I say you’ve got nothing to worry about, you’ve got nothing to worry about! I promise you, this hike is going to be worth it.”
So we put our fears aside, trusted his judgment, and forged ahead. We hiked the trail, heading uphill for several more minutes and soon came to a clearing, where there was a pool of shallow fresh water surrounded by a mix of cruciferous and deciduous trees. The pool was being fed by a gentle waterfall. The water was so clear and sparkling that immediately several of the teens in our group including my own kids decided to kick off their shoes and wander in. We thought this was the treat our friend had brought us to see. Instead, he called to us that we had to keep going further into the bush because there was more.
More? By now, we had not just faced our fear of the long forgotten bear cub and his hungry mama. We were entranced with the thrill of the climb – what else might we find on our hike into the bush? As we ventured higher and higher, I could hear something like wind rustling through the trees. We got closer and suddenly below us was a thundering waterfall – an absolutely beautiful sight! The water was rumbling down over a rock face, into a pool below, which then fed the stream that eventually settled at the pool we had only just seen. From where we were standing, we could feel the intensity and the sheer force of the water as it cascaded the rocks, and our faces were kissed with the mist rising from the flow.
After several pictures, dips in the rock pool, and minutes of video footage, we all reluctantly agreed to leave this beautiful spot, and return to our cars. Remarkably, on the way back down the trail, we all carefully stepped over the bear track – some even paused to take pictures of it up close – all without experiencing any fear at all. Isn’t it remarkable that one person’s interpretation of an experience is enough to dissipate the fear response? Perhaps had our friend not been our guide that day, we would have ventured no further, and we would have missed out on experiencing a majestic view of nature up close and personal.
What are you afraid of? Does that fear serve you, or does it control you? If you do not learn to master fear, then fear will become your master. Wouldn’t you rather be in control?
Let me share a tool that will help you to face your fears on a conscious, intentional level. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is happening right now?
- How do I feel about what is happening right now?
- What does this event mean to me? What impact does it have on my life immediately? What is the lifetime value of this event?
- How would I like this to turn out? (What outcome do I want?)
- What can I do to create the outcome(s) I desire?
- What have I been doing so far when situations like this come up?
- Has my current plan of action been working? If yes, why – If not, why not?
- What is the worst thing that could happen if I try a new approach to this challenge?
- What is the best thing that could happen if I try a new approach to this challenge?
- What is my plan of action based on everything I know now?
Taking this conscious, objective approach to the fear-inducing stressors in your life will enable you to make informed decisions about how to deal with each stressful event, without panic, anxiety, or fear.
(This article is excerpted from Julie Christiansen’s book, When the Last Straw Falls: 30 Ways to Keep Stress from Breaking Your Back. She is the principal therapist at Julie Christiansen Counselling & Psychotherapy, based in the Niagara Region and is an internationally recognized public speaker, author, and expert on the psychology of anger and stress. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website: www.juliechristiansen.com. )