Wright Foundation | June 10, 2020

Making Friends with Fear: Embracing Your Fear During Challenging Times

As we move through the Coronavirus pandemic, many of us are feeling the same emotion: Fear.

You may have heard that embracing your fear helps you get through challenges, but how do you go about making friends with your fears?

We’re feeling fearful about the state of the world. We’re worried about our jobs. We’re concerned about our health and the health of our loved ones. We may be concerned about the fact that we’re single and stuck at home, trying to date on Zoom. We may fear for the company we work for—will we have a job? What about that raise or promotion we were aiming for in a few months?

These fears are very real and valid. But when we talk about fear, we have a choice. We can choose to embrace fear and lean into our emotions, using them to propel us forward to action, or we can choose to crumble under the weight of our fear and allow it to paralyze us.

Fear and Our Transformational Development

When we talk about embracing fear and making fear into a friend, we’re looking at the emotion in terms of human development. As we develop emotionally, we move through different stages. As a child, we feel excitement and fear. Our challenge is to learn to trust, engage, and work with our fear as we grow.

As we get older, we may either learn to indulge in fear and live our lives sequestered away in terror or go into denial about our fear.

Both denial and overindulgence are mistaken approaches to fear. Our fear is our source of aliveness—it’s neither an emotion to ignore or to hide inside.

Fear also contains a powerful message. Our feelings of anxiety come up when we face mortality. Many of us have a fear of death. We hear people say, “I’m not afraid,” but feeling afraid isn’t always negative. Look at walking around downtown Chicago. On a busy day, you may need to cross the road. What do you do? You press the button and wait for the light. You don’t typically wander into traffic. You may look down the street and charge across if you see a break. It’s your fear that’s telling you not to jump in front of the car. Fear is really our friend.

Fear also tells us how to navigate in social situations. It helps us pick up on cues from others in our sphere. We may notice someone is upset, or someone is angry. We may fear rejection from our social group–being left out. These fears are rooted in our need to survive.

Archeologists can see the first signs of humans coming together in ancient bodies that show signs of healing bones. Why? Because when people were on their own, a broken bone could mean death. If someone broke their leg, they wouldn’t be able to hunt or survive. When people started to come together in social groups, they would care for each other until they recovered. If someone broke a leg, their group gave them food, shelter, and water. Belonging to a group was critical to our very survival.

Similarly, fear protected us. If we heard a noise in the jungle, fear kept us from exploring the sound further. We didn’t charge towards an angry lion or bear. Fear told us to hide, and fear became self-preservation. Fear kept us safe and helped us evolve.

Zone-In to Your Fear

We all tend to protect ourselves from fear. For many of us, hunkering down on your couch, watching the entire Star Wars series can feel like we’re practicing self-care. There’s nothing wrong with watching a movie, of course, but when we’re feeling fear, we want it to motivate us into action.

It’s a better idea to allow ourselves to feel the emotion and figure out what action we can take. Can we reach out to people? If you’re worried about your job, can you use this time to imagine where you’d like to take your career in the future?

When people are afraid, they often deny themselves the challenges of learning and growing—especially at work. Instead, they take up music, they work on their hobbies, they draw and take up art. Of course, this makes them feel great! There’s nothing to be afraid of when you’re playing the notes you want to hear or drawing the pictures you wish to—but you aren’t putting yourself out there!

In meetings, you see people zone out and start doodling in the margins of their notes. Often, it’s when they’re feeling an emotion like fear. They don’t want to face the feeling, so they disengage. They’re afraid to speak up, they’re worried, or feel like they had an idea shot down by someone. Rather than engaging and confronting the issue, they allow fear to take over, and they zone out.

Right now, it’s especially frightening in the business world. A friend of mine is the Chief Operating Officer of her company. She’s facing some unprecedented challenges—she’s never let people go or put them on furlough. Financial decisions are going on in the company that she wasn’t part of. Her fear was causing her to become frozen. She was fearful, hurt, and angry.

But once she tapped into those feelings, she realized, “I’m mad and afraid, but this is what I need to do. I need to go in and fight for my people. I need to get as engaged in the company as possible.” Now is the time to work harder and to make yourself indispensable. How can you do even more and fight even harder for your job?

We Need Our Emotions—Even Fear—Now More than Ever

Our emotions help us interact with others using compassion and empathy. We need our hurt. We need our fear, and we need our anger. These emotions help us engage and step up. They help propel us toward involvement.

We’re in a time of uncertainty, and with that ambiguity comes a lot of fear. But when we really feel those fears, we can turn them into motivation. What can you do this moment to take effective action?

The goal isn’t to “overcome your fear” or turn it off. It’s to feel it and ride it forward. When you talk to athletes, performers, or public speakers, they’ll tell you that they don’t try to turn off their sense of fear. They understand that you can’t turn it off or “overcome” it. You ride it. You use that fear and accompanying adrenaline to bring you energy and aliveness. Let it motivate you into effective action.

So, if you’re feeling fear today as you read the news or get an email from your boss, decide to take action. What can you do right now to choose to move forward? You can either choose to shut down—to become small, frozen, and to shrink down—or to empower yourself and keep going.

Reach out to your friends that inspire you—those who are motivated and who are taking action in their own lives. Identify what you can do right now, today, to keep yourself moving forward.

We exercise our control of the choices we make from moment to moment. Who we are today is a compilation of all the decisions we have made and all the moments we have ever lived. Right now, we have a choice—we can move forward with our fear.

In our Foundation, we have fears, too. We’re a nonprofit organization that relies on donations, which have, of course, slowed down. Classes have shifted to an online-only format. None of us know exactly what the future will look like. But as a group, we’ve decided to choose moving forward even with our fear. We know that our materials need to reach the broadest possible audience to help them get through this time. So we’ve offered all kinds of resources, free seminars, and webinars online through our Wright Now site. We’ve chosen to offer them for free right now because we know people need our message.

If you’re looking for ways to learn, grow, and lean into your fear, please be my guest and explore some of the resources we have to offer. Go forward, even in fear, and ignite your world as you discover the emergence of your next, most-radiant self.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.