Fear gets a bad rap, which is so understandable. It’s a negative emotion, one that often feels so unpleasant that most of us would rather avoid it than face it.
Getting tangled up in fear can cause us to avoid making the choices, decisions and commitments that lead to success, wholeness and well-being.
But fear has another side, one that is surprisingly helpful. We can learn from our fear, if we approach it with openness, curiosity, and trust that we won’t get caught in it.
How Fear Can Be Helpful
The next time you feel fear, welcome it as an old friend…first take three deep breaths. Then, ask your fear, “What benefit are you offering me? What are you trying to teach me?”
Here are four ways that fear can be helpful, paired with questions inviting you to think about what you’ve gained from your encounters with fear.
1) Fear alerts us to true danger, motivating us to do what must to protect ourselves from realistic possible or actual threats. It’s scary to realize that something serious might be wrong with your health; that a layoff is imminent or that your business is in trouble. Unpleasant as it is, letting ourselves feel scared can guide us into taking needed action.
- Think of a time when fear got your attention, and because of that you did something that protected you from real, imminent harm. What did you gain from that experience?
Wherever there is fear, bravery is in the mix.
2) Feeling fear allows us to find our courage. Though others can see our courage, it can be invisible to us. That’s because courage seldom feels the way it looks. When we do something brave, on the inside we’re likely to be feeling uncertain, afraid, outraged, or compelled — anything but courageous!
- Think of a time when fear prompted you to act courageously, even if you didn’t feel brave at the time. It might have been a small, seemingly everyday event, or something more dramatic. How does that past experience help you now?
As weird as it may sound, can you imagine having a conversation with fear so that when it (inevitably) raises its head, you say, “What do you want me to pay attention to?”
3) Fear reminds us to prioritize what’s most important to us. My encounter with cancer made me re-think how I spend my time, money and energy. It made me decide to limit how much work I take on, and to make sure I’m spending time in ways that mean the most to me, whether that’s knitting, spending time with family and friends that I don’t see often, or letting myself just be.
- Think of a time when fear awakened you to what truly matters in your life, and helped you to make sure to do those things now. What changes did you make as a result of that awakening?
Fear is as human as laughter and tears.
~ Miriam Greenspan
4) Fear connects us, reminding us of our shared humanity – that we are not alone. We’re each making our way through our fears and finding our way forward from them, writes clarity coach Angela Wheeler.
- Think of a time when you realized that we all suffer from fear at times. What impact has this realization had on your sense of connection to yourself and others?
Fear helps us survive, discover our own courage, recognize what matters most to us, and connects us to others. What are some other benefits that fear brings to your life?
For More on This Topic
Healing Through the Dark Emotions, Miriam Greenspan, 2003.
The Upside of Your Dark Side, Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, 2014
Fear is the Highest Common Denominator, Charlie Gilkey