University News

Resilience Resources Weekly: Responding to Fear

by Katie Clare, Associate Director for Resilience Programs, University Life

Southwick and Charney recognize a critical step in building resilience is recognizing fears. If you’re feeling anxiety, then fear – the root of anxiety – is part of the equation. The way you respond to the fear you feel can help you become more resilient.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have experienced a spike in anxiety. For some, this may have come in March when conditions became more serious in the United States. For some, it may have come during these last two months with restrictions in place and the challenges of balancing work, school, and caregiving. For some, the spike may be now as restrictions begin to lift. Whether you’ve experienced this spike in anxiety or you’ve witnessed a friend, family member, or colleague experience it, let’s simply appreciate just how reasonable it is – both reasonable to have experienced a spike in anxiety and to have fears in general outside of any pandemic situation. That said, there are many reasons, especially when it comes to your health, to manage that anxiety and the underlying fear in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you, as explored in this article about managing coronavirus fears.

At the end of the day, it’s your response to the fear that can help you to build resilience. Think of it like a video game. To earn the extra life, you have to slay the serpent. Likewise, to increase resilience, you have to address the fear. Yes, you may want to shove it in the closet or under the bed, but this would not be growth-oriented. You can’t avoid your fear and expect to grow from it. And while you may need to slay the serpent to get the extra life, you don’t have to wipe out the fear to be more resilient. If you can wipe it out, good work! To be more resilient, though, you need to build awareness of the fear, so it doesn’t run the show. The awareness allows you to be in control, so you can determine your emotional response. With awareness, you can base your emotional response on a realistic assessment of your fear. In terms of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re sure to see more pieces like this, as states ease restrictions and we move into summer.

While facing fears is important, it’s not easy. Here are a few strategies that will help you tackle this challenging element of building resilience. Before proceeding, though, let’s also recognize that this might be a much harder, much more challenging space to explore than previous weeks. If you feel like you are struggling in response to your fears or from exploring any of the strategies that follow, please reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services(students) or Human Resources (faculty and staff).

Fear-Setting Instead of Goal-Setting

If you’re asking yourself how you can tackle your fears, find inspiration in this talk from Tim Ferriss. He asks us to think about our goals by addressing our fears. While many of us are familiar with SMART goals, we don’t always address the most serious challenge in reaching our goals – fears that often serve as obstacles. Ferriss pays attention to this and pushes you to anticipate the fears, so you can have a prepared solution ready. After watching his talk, work through his written exercise for yourself. You are likely to have an easier time managing your fears and brainstorming solutions if you see them captured in writing on the page.

Journaling for Gratitude

Fears can serve as helpful guides when we take the time to explore them. Building on the writing work from Tim Ferriss, take some time to explore one of your fears in writing. When you write something down, you think about it more and inevitably reframe it through that process. This can be a critical step in facing fears or in altering your relationship to your thoughts, whether fearful ones or not. While Ferriss wants you to tackle the fear and solve it with his three-part exercise, this encouragement to journal is simply about connecting with your fear and investigating it to see if you might reframe it. To do this, identify a single fear you may have and set a timer to explore it through five minutes of free writing. After the timer tells you the first step is done, read what you wrote and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does this fear tell me about what I value?
  • Why might I feel grateful toward this fear?

Now set the timer for another five minutes of free writing about this fear in response to those two questions. You might see a shift in your thinking in just 10 minutes through this simple practice.

If you have a willingness to investigate your fears, you can develop a richer understanding of how you operate. This richer understanding can help you to feel more empowered and feeling empowered can be helpful whenever you find yourself in a challenging situation that might allow those fears to take hold.  The feeling of empowerment can be an important contributor to your self-esteem, and these work hand-in-hand to fuel resilience.

Rejection’s Deep Relationship to Fear

Being rejected is perhaps one of the most common fears. Jia Jiang provides a compelling look into how he worked through fear of rejection in his own life. There are some moments where the talk might feel unbelievable, but it’s hard to not end up loving it because he’s so authentic in his willing curiosity. An important takeaway from this talk is to push yourself within reason. In facing your fears, it’s important to do what’s safe and manageable. After watching his talk, take a few minutes to identify just one thing you might do in the next week that would allow you to explore this concept a bit more in your own life. Identify one thing you might be fearful of and using Jiang as inspiration brainstorm three ways you might test it. With restrictions still in place, you might need to be extra creative in your approach. Don’t let that stop you.