October 9, 2020 6 min read
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Any time unexpected challenges arise or tragedy strikes, it is normal to feel shock, fear, anger, denial, depression and other negative emotions. In normal times, this can be triggered by the death of a loved one, a job loss, or an unexpected health diagnosis.
But when multiple drastic changes happen concurrently or in rapid sequence, especially at a global level, it can be even more challenging to keep your head on straight. You might even feel paralyzed by uncertainty and unable to make decisions. The mental and emotional stress can take a hefty toll on your physical and mental health and overall performance.
Follow these steps to break free from fear and so you can make smart decisions and perform at your best, no matter what is happening in the world.
Neutralize your fear
Fear is more than just an uncomfortable emotion that can get your heart pumping. Our brains evolved to be able to spot and avoid dangerous situations and to use fear to ensure our physical survival, an important function when hungry saber-toothed tigers were a real threat. Unfortunately, fear also shuts down clear, rational thought processes, limits the possibilities and solutions you are able to perceive and inhibits smart decision-making.
The first step to freeing yourself from a fear-based emotional spiral is to acknowledge how you are feeling and take on the position of “neutral observer” of your emotions. When you do this, you stop resisting or denying what you are experiencing and can move into a state of greater awareness, calm and clear thinking. Here is a quick strategy for neutralizing fear and other negative emotions:
Acknowledge how you are feeling, e.g., “I’m feeling scared.”
Notice how your physical body is feeling. Where in your body do you feel the fear (or other emotion)?
Focus on those areas of your body while asking yourself, “What is causing this emotion? What is this emotion about?”
Once you are clear on what the emotion is about, ask yourself, “Is this really true? How do I know this is really true?” This is not about proving yourself right. It is about trying to see the truth about the thought or situation that is behind the fear. Inserting even a little doubt can be enough to start neutralizing the fear.
Asking your mind questions also changes the focus of your attention from the fear itself to finding the answers to your questions. This also opens up the possibility for you to change your perception about whatever you believe is causing the negative emotion, even if you can’t change the situation directly.
Create a positive mindset environment
While fear short-circuits smart decision-making and productive behaviors, a positive mindset supports clear thinking and enhanced personal performance. But exactly how do you start to cultivate a positive mindset, especially if you’re facing tough challenges and currently stuck in fear?
Here are three easy things you can start doing today:
Limit your news intake
According to the results from a 2017 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, over 95% of adults said they feel compelled to follow the news regularly, but 56% of them also said that doing so causes them stress. If you are feeling fearful, stressed or overwhelmed, an easy step to take to improve your mental and emotional state, decision-making and personal performance is to simply limit your news intake. Even better, turn off the news entirely for a period of time and instead tune into “good news networks” for information.
Surround yourself with positive people
We all know what it feels like to be around someone who loves to complain, blame or play the victim. These people not only take a toll on your patience and well-being, they also greatly influence your level of success. Take a break from anyone who may be unconsciously dragging you down and instead seek out groups of positive people in your local community or online. Social media is full of groups focused on uplifting, inspiring and supporting others.
Change your state of mind by changing your body’s posture
Numerous psychological studies indicate that simply changing the posture of your physical body can influence your emotional state. If you are struggling with anxiety, fear or depression, instead of spending another hour slouched at your computer, sit up straight or, even better, get outside and go for a walk.
According to personal performance and mindset guru Tony Robbins, “The difference between peak performance and poor performance is not intelligence or ability; most often it is the state that your mind and body is in.” In challenging times, being able to operate at peak performance is even more critical than ever, no matter who you are.
Leverage the power of choice
Your power of choice is your primary way to take back control from fear and move yourself into a more empowered and productive state of being. While you can’t control what’s going on, you always have the choice of how you respond, no matter what the situation is.
I know this may be hard to swallow. Sometimes it can feel like you can’t control how you are responding, especially when extreme challenges and circumstances hit close to home.
But if you choose to believe that you have no control over your responses, then you are surrendering what you can control (i.e., your own thoughts, emotions and choices) to the things you can’t control (e.g., others’ behaviors and global disasters).
When you do that, you are choosing to play the victim of circumstance. You are unconsciously choosing to give up your personal power. You are more likely to feel like you can’t make a decision or that you don’t have any good options. And you are choosing to perpetuate a turbulent emotional state within yourself. None of these will lead to the feelings of calm, certainty or security that our minds desperately crave. And they definitely don’t support you tapping into the courage you need to navigate challenging times and come out on top.
The good news is that neutralizing your fearful emotions and nurturing a positive state of mind helps you respond to any situation more appropriately. In this way you can create a positive feedback loop of your emotional and mental states supporting productive responses and positive outcomes, as well.
Life will always be full of uncertainty and unexpected challenges. Feeling fearful at times is unavoidable. Mastering the ability to quickly shift into more positive, resourceful emotional and mental states will help you get back to being your best self and easily handling whatever life throws at you.