Paralysis-busting survival kit
This fear is not the insidious fear of failure or rejection. It’s much more brutal, acute and sudden, taking hold of you in particular circumstances or at crucial moments: a job interview, for instance, or a speech in front of a gathering or a confrontation you’ve been dreading. You can regain control, provided you don’t deny the fear.
Fear Less: How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself, by Dr Pippa Grange, (Vermilion, 2020).
1. Tackle the fear with a finely tuned routine
It’s easier to manage acute stress if you’ve planned for it in advance – if it doesn’t take you (totally) by surprise:
- Take inspiration from top athletes. Managing nerves before a competition is an integral part of their training program, like diet or warm-up exercises.
- Remember the key principle: Don’t leave any empty space for fear. Automatically set up a pre-defined routine that you can follow without hesitation or reflection in such circumstances.
- Try out a range of techniques. There’s no single recipe for combatting this fear. What’s important is to find the approach that suits you best.
- Persevere and keep practicing. No technique for managing fear is ever 100 percent effective at first. But the more you use it, the more quickly and naturally it will fall into place – and the more effective it will become.
Technique No. 2: Create a diversion
Sometimes it’s better to outright ignore the fear by actively directing your attention elsewhere.
- If you’re not by yourself, connect with other people. Turn to the person closest to you and talk to them about something totally different from the subject that’s causing you concern. Force yourself to joke, laugh and make others laugh. The tension will automatically ease. This is the same technique used by some football players before a penalty shootout.
- Or, on the contrary, isolate yourself in a protective bubble – if that suits you better – but don’t concentrate on your fear. Put on your headphones, listen to the news on your smartphone, watch your favorite YouTube channel, listen to music. All your favorite distractions are allowed.
This diversion technique is particularly effective when it’s impossible to rationalize or when you find yourself stuck in a “holding pattern.”
Technique No. 3: Rationalize your fear
Since your thoughts shape your reality, your sense of reason can come to the rescue by helping you put distance between yourself and your fear.
- Weigh the situation coldly and objectively. What is the probability that a real disaster will happen? What’s the worst-case scenario?
- Refer to past successes. Have you ever successfully faced the situation you’re afraid of? If so, why can’t you do it again? If not, what “evidence” do you base your negative inferences on?
- Don’t be easily defeated and assume the worst if the situation does actually turn against you. Instead, prepare an action plan.
- Reframe, reformulate and contextualize the problem. Your fear is not only a negative sign, it’s also proof of your motivation, commitment and/or excitement in the current situation.
- See your fear as a necessary catharsis, but set limits. Negotiate with your fear: Yes, you do have the right to be afraid of this interview or confrontation, but only until you enter the room.
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