Fear; it isn’t pleasant to feel but we’ve all felt it before at some point in our lives. The sweaty palms, intense sense of dread, stomachs dropping and being ready to run or being frozen to the spot. Yet, we cannot live without fear. Fear alerts us to potential dangers in our environment, allowing us to act to escape to safety. Fear and the fight or flight response that’s hard-wired into our nervous systems ensured the survival of our ancestors and continues to serve that function today. It lets us know when to be cautious. However, things are a lot different today than they were a thousand years ago. And for the most part, the dangers we face have changed as well. What do you do when stepping outside, talking to people or putting down a boundary makes you feel like you’re about to face off with a bear?
When I talk to clients about fear, I like to use the character Courage from the early 2000’s cartoon Courage the Cowardly Dog as an example of how to deal with it. In the show, Courage has to rescue his owners from the supernatural events that plague them every episode. As the main character, he’s usually nervous, whimpers a lot and screams every time one of his owners spooks him for fun. When it’s time to face off with the danger of the week, he trembles and wears a permanent worried expression throughout the episode. He doesn’t suddenly become this brave hero risking it all; he’s still a scared dog who just wants to protect his family. Yet Courage forges ahead and rescues his owners, while uttering his catchphrase “the things I do for love.”
It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean you should face situations that are unsafe and overwhelming all the time. Courage had no choice but to do so to ensure the survival of his owners and himself. Disengaging can be the best (and safest) option for your mental and physical well-being. However, it's equally as important to think about whether your response to fear will serve you in the long run. Courage didn’t confront or run away from these situations without a plan for the most part; he always consulted the sarcastic sounding computer in his family’s house for help and information. This is one of the key parts in Courage’s ability to rescue his owners that allow him and his family to get out safely. Think about what matters to you and determine if your response to fear gets you closer to or farther from those things.
It’s okay to admit you’re anxious or afraid, especially now with the pandemic. There’s a lot of reasons to be; losing financial stability, the possibility of getting sick and not knowing what the new year will hold. Acknowledge and make space for that fear. You don’t have to refute it or push it away. Take a deep breath and observe where it sits in your body. Think about what you need to get through this; maybe it’s a plan, meeting your limits, support from a loved one, or an item that brings you comfort. You’ll find that once you make space, it’s a little easier to welcome and embrace the things that matter to you.
Wrote by: Sophie Desnoyers
Mental Health Intern