Right now, there’s no way around it—we are all feeling fear. These feelings are natural, normal, healthy, and even expected.
During 2020, we were all feeling a lot of fear. We may still feel those fearful feelings even today—whether it’s about illness, the state of the world, or something in our lives that isn’t going well.
But there are many methods for letting go of fear and turning it around. Moreover, these lessons apply at any time (whether we’re in a global pandemic or facing a personal crisis). Here’s how we can lean into some of the lessons over the recent past and embrace them going forward.
During the early days and months of the Coronavirus pandemic, we were all feeling fear. These feelings were natural, normal, healthy, and even expected. We were all facing an unprecedented situation, where our whole world had been upended. None of us had seen a global pandemic of this proportion before.
For months, we don’t know how the Coronavirus outbreak would play out, and even still, we aren’t back to a complete state of normalcy.
Compounding these fears about the state of the world were other fears like economic insecurity, political unrest, concerns about our health and safety, and the health and safety of our loved ones. Many of us have felt helpless as we see disturbing scenes on the news and read upsetting accounts of the disease.
We were combining these fears with isolation and loneliness from practicing social distancing. And even now, as we’ve emerged, life has changed. Our social connections look different. Being “out and about” may still trigger certain fears and bring up those past traumas.
But we all face frightening situations throughout our lives. Perhaps not always on the global scale that the pandemic wrought, but many of these personal situations can feel even more frightening and upsetting.
Thinking of ways we need to “let go of fear” may be the wrong way of framing the idea. Fear in itself isn’t bad or wrong. It’s protective and healthy. Fear isn’t a bad emotion, and we don’t need to let go of fear or erase it completely. By the same token, we don’t need to let go of any of our emotions; we should allow ourselves to feel them fully. They’re an essential part of who we are.
Instead, what we may need to do when fear feels overwhelming or insurmountable is channel it toward our sense of aliveness. We can use our fear to propel us forward in a positive way.
In the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill never lost his certainty that the British would prevail. The bombing was constant. Some nights, 400 tons of bombs were dropped on London. It would have been easy to fall into doubt and complete despair. Many did, but not Sir Winston.
Although he had no idea how they would win and the situation seemed hopeless, Churchill still believed they would come out of the battle. He never wavered—he knew they would get through. In fact, he prepared the British to defend their homeland. He kept them fighting mad and ready for anything—including the devastation of many of their homes.
We can apply this Churchill mindset to our own lives when we’re feeling fearful.
This attitude will carry us through almost any difficulty. Set the intention that we will survive. Believe that even without a sign of relief, as circumstances even seem to get worse, we will make it through.
Yes, challenging experiences may change us. They may impact our entire lives—we may not make it through unscathed, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t emerge stronger, smarter, and more resilient. When we determine that we’re going to learn and grow, we might come out different, but we will prevail.
The self-belief that we can handle a given situation is called self-efficacy. We can channel and increase our self-efficacy during challenging times. Having self-efficacy doesn’t mean that we feel no fear. We may not even feel confident, but we believe we will handle it.
We might be scared, and we might not know how we’re going to get through the situation. We may shake and tremble at the thought of what we’re facing, but we can set our intention to get through it. We can decide that no matter the circumstance, we will find an opportunity to learn, grow, innovate, support each other, and partner in new ways—always knowing that we will come out on the other side.
Another lesson on resilience we can take from Churchill’s example during the Battle of Britain is that being there for people makes a huge difference. This is especially important in situations where we want to “do” something. We can’t always do; sometimes, we must simply be. Often, being in the moment and offering our presence is equally powerful to most actions we could take.
During the battle, some of the most impoverished areas of London were hit the hardest. These people had nothing left. Churchill knew there was nothing he could do to change what had happened. But he traveled immediately to these hardest-hit areas anyway, and his presence made a huge difference to those people whose entire world had been crushed.
As he walked through the rows of houses that looked as though a giant had stomped them, his eyes welled up with tears. People saw this expression of emotion and said, “He really cares about us. He loves our people.” It meant so much to the British, and witnessing his simple act of human expression carried many of them through the time.
Our sense of caring and empathy for others is a gift that we have in abundance. We may not know what to do in the situation. Maybe we don’t have a job for the friend who is losing their livelihood. Perhaps we don’t get to spend time with someone we care about, or we can’t fix their issue. But we can simply be there for each other. By expressing interest, listening, and reassuring others, we can also find our own sense of comfort.
Listening to others also helps us shift our perspective away from our own situation. Not that we shouldn’t feel upset or concerned if we’re going through a tough time, but when we empathize with loved ones, it can help us realize that we all struggle and none of us are alone.
I am often struck by the poignancy and relevance of Niebuhr’s serenity prayer popularized by AA. When we’re going through a difficult time, these powerful words can help bring us a sense of comfort and peace: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
From there, we can use the words of the serenity prayer as our guide—is there something that I can control about the situation? What pieces of this are in my control, and what pieces are beyond it? From there, we can focus on that piece that we can manage.
Our fear lets us know that we’re alive. Fear is an incredible gift as an emotion. It’s part of our survival system. Years ago, our fear told us not to go into the jungle or avoid a particular cave where predators dwelt. Fear kept us safe from harm and helped us react to and assess threatening situations. Fear was key to our very survival.
Today, fear can continue to help us assess certain conditions and situations. It can still protect us. But we need to start letting go of fear when it runs rampant or becomes outsized for the current environment.
It’s not that fear (or any emotion—sadness, hurt, anger) should be avoided. As we said before and tell our students at the Wright Foundation, there’s no such thing as “bad emotions.” All our emotions are powerful. They guide us and protect us. Some of us have developed the skills to harness these emotions and use them to the best effect. This is known as emotional intelligence. All of us are still working on building that emotional intelligence throughout our lives.
To understand how to process emotions, we can learn from watching how young children express their feelings. When they feel scared, they might tremble, cry, or yell, but they also reach out for reassurance and safety. When they’re angry, hurt, or sad, they allow themselves to feel those feelings fully. Then they move once the fear has led to safety, the hurt has led to healing, and the anger has helped us get away from pain and danger or acquire the desired outcome. Emotions are designed to complete themselves with effective action, not to be repressed or avoided.
Once we identify our emotions and feelings, they lose some of their power over us. Neuroscience research shows that when we name our feelings–when we say I am sad, or angry or afraid–it soothes our emotional center. It brings the seat of consciousness, our frontal lobe online, so we can better think and deal with the situations triggering our emotions.
We can say, “I’m feeling afraid, and that’s okay,” and allow ourselves to feel the emotions fully without getting paralyzed by our fear. We then take appropriate rational, emotion-informed action.
Rather than dwelling in the fear and allowing it to hold us back, we can embrace the aliveness that accompanies our emotions. We can feel the sense of aliveness that fear invokes but not let the fear overwhelm us. This sense of aliveness can help us connect. It helps us connect with our inner selves. We can choose to be alive and engaged rather than to stay fearful and shut down. Fear can be a catalyst for growth, learning, and moving forward.
For more ways to learn and grow, don’t miss the courses available at Wright Now. We offer an array of career, relationship, and personal growth courses designed to help you get MORE from your life. So if you’re ready to live a life of more satisfaction and joy, this is your opportunity!
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.