First published in 1909, E. M. Forster’s short science fiction book THE MACHINE STOPS presents a technology-dependent humanity living underground, where all its needs are serviced by machines. This book captured my imagination and I wondered about the plight of these captives unable to leave their cells, living in isolation connected solely by technology. Now I know.
We are all experiencing the horror of a doomsday scenario coming true. If you are feeling crippling fear or anxiety about the pandemic, recognize that you are not alone. While none of us can predict the future, we must all be prepared for it. But it’s impossible to make sound decisions or take necessary action if we are frozen with fear.
Fight or Flight
Human beings react to threatening situations with a “fight or flight” response as a survival mechanism. Whether it’s facing the threat or running away to safety, this acute stress response has helped us react to imminent danger.
The crisis we are facing today as a collective community is truly unprecedented, devastating lives and livelihoods across the globe. There’s no guaranteed safety against an invisible enemy. This pandemic has forced everyone to navigate through a perfect storm without a compass.
There are no easy answers when you experience so much loss and pain. But the fight or flight response caused by fear can lead to short-term thinking and knee jerk reactions. Even worse, if you freeze, your indecision and inaction will breed even more fear and anxiety.
Fear comes from our belief that something painful is likely to occur. On the other hand, courageous acts stem from our belief that something positive is likely to occur. Both fear and faith emerge from our beliefs, but fear produces despair, while faith gives us hope.
To break the downward cycle of denial and despair, you need to understand the source of fear and replace it with empowering beliefs that generate more faith than fear. This practice has helped me every single time I’ve faced a scary situation and felt utterly hopeless.
Fear of Loss
Whether it was the fear of losing someone I love, or losing something I have, or losing the respect of others, I’ve been overwhelmed by my fear of loss, unable to come to terms with any undesirable consequences. I was either completely paralyzed or I made terrible decisions simply to avoid the loss.
My fear made me feel like the loss had already occurred or was imminent in the very near future. What helped me was simply asking myself if that was true, and if not, assessing how likely it was to happen and by when. Getting a grip on my fear helped me cope with the overwhelming sense of despair. And when my fears did come true, my experiences revealed that even in the face of the most painful and devastating losses, there is a path forward.
If you are experiencing this fear, ask yourself what you might gain. Perhaps it’s gaining experience, or wisdom. Perhaps it’s getting out of something that was no longer serving you. Perhaps it’s gaining greater appreciation for what you have. Not every loss can be replaced by a gain. Loss leaves a void that can’t always be filled with what you had before. But you can fill it with something new. Loss is an inevitable part of life. When we accept it, and choose to walk through that fear, we learn to live.
Fear of Suffering
The fear of suffering prevents us from attempting or experiencing anything that we perceive will cause pain or discomfort. Whether it’s leaving my comfort zone, or having to start over, or learning something new, or simply adapting to change, I’ve been fearful of the hardship I’d experience in the process. Unless I dealt with that fear, I’d find myself simply avoiding the journey altogether.
My fear made me feel like the pain was greater and the suffering would continue longer. Everything scary was magnified in my imagination – and against that backdrop, I felt weak and resourceless. What helped me was reflecting on times when I had overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I created a “greatest hits” list that reminded me of my ability to endure hardship – and emerge victorious.
If you are experiencing this fear, remind yourself of past successes, and ask yourself how you might grow. Perhaps it’s leveling up to the next level of confidence. Perhaps it’s growing new skills and competencies. Perhaps it’s learning how strong and resourceful you are in the face of adversity. Every hero’s story is about their journey of overcoming hardship and pain. Honor your struggle. It’s what makes you a hero.
Fear of Failure
This is the fear that I’ve personally struggled with the most – fear and anxiety that I will not get what I hope for and be disappointed by the outcome. Whether it was the fear of disappointment with business results, or fitness goals, or personal income, my fear caused me to change direction or give up prematurely.
Underlying my fear of failure was a sense of shame. What if I am not good enough? What if I can’t figure it out? What if I disappoint those who expect great things of me? Ultimately, my fear was about losing the love and respect of those that mattered the most to me. What helped me was recognizing that my results are not my reasons. Not my reason for being following my passion, not my reason for pursuing my mission, not my reason for learning, and most of all, not my reason for being loved.
If you are experiencing this fear, ask yourself why you will succeed. Perhaps it’s because you have the ability to solve any problem. Perhaps it’s because you know how to pivot quickly. Perhaps it’s because you are loved unconditionally. Some failures are caused by things in your control, and others by things completely out of your control. Regardless of the cause, you have the ability to turn every disappointment into even greater drive. Your results today don’t define your possibilities tomorrow.
Dancing With Fear
Reflect on your response to the current crisis. Are you living with fear and anxiety worrying about what might happen?
Understand the source of your fear. Are you afraid of loss? Are you afraid of suffering? Are you afraid of failing?
Evaluate your situation with curiosity. What will you gain? How will you grow? How will you turn your disappointment into drive?
Embrace your emotions and allow yourself to dance with your fear.
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance. ~ Lee Anne Womack