If You Weren’t Afraid, What Would You Do?

This last weekend, I asked myself this question- if you weren’t afraid, what would you do? 

It was an interesting experience to sit with myself and get curious about my answers. I was surprised to realize how often I let fear get in the way of me living my life. After I noticed how many times I allow my anxiety to dominate, I made sure to practice self-compassion. We are all human. We all struggle. I can be aware of my setbacks and still be kind to myself.

It’s no secret that anxiety can paralyze us. So often, we get stuck in the deep thought trap of “what if?” questions. We fear failure so much that we become immobile while the very real physiological sensations of anxiety (racing heart, sick stomach, tight throat) threaten to take us out. It is in these moments, we when attach meaning to our racing thoughts, that we become frozen in our sympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system should only kick in if we are being chased by a bear and need to run—staying alive is its main function. However, anxiety likes to hijack this system for more minor threats like public speaking, for instance. If we repeatedly indulge thoughts and feelings of fear, we will eventually sit immobile. We will stop showing up and start watching our lives pass us by. If reading this last paragraph caused you to feel a certain amount of anxiety, you aren’t alone. 

So, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Try asking yourself this question and see what comes up for you. If you are feeling stuck or paralyzed by fear, what steps can you take to get unstuck? Here are some of my thoughts. 

  1. Be mindful. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice what barriers are coming up for you. Go back to that first question-what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Consider your answers. Write them down. Stay curious and nonjudgmental. 

  2. Recognize that feelings are just sensations and thoughts are not facts. Just because you have the thought that something horrible will happen if you step out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean it will. Don’t give fear thoughts so much power! Work on challenging these thoughts. Ask yourself for some hardcore evidence that a thought is true.  

  3. Ask yourself what action you need to take in order for you to confront your fear. What is one small thing you can do today? It is important to stay in the present when contemplating action. Anxiety is all about future tripping. 

  4. Do the hard thing. And do it again and again until it becomes comfortable. Stay aware of your thoughts and feelings and continuously remind yourself that anxiety cannot hurt you. That threatening, dangerous feeling is just a sensation. Return to your breath and remind yourself that you are capable. 

  5. Recognize that you did a hard thing! Pay attention to how you feel after you have stepped out of your comfort zone and taken action. Praise yourself for being brave. Allow yourself to feel empowered. Don’t skip this step. It’s important to recognize our progress. Our brains need this positive feedback.

It’s worth mentioning that when you have completed the first hard thing or the first hard thing has become easier, it’s time to move on to the next hard thing. I know it’s difficult. I get it. But honestly, feeling stuck is just as hard and there is no pay off at the end. So, be brave with your life. Embrace imperfection. 

I believe in you.  

Anxiety will paralyze us if we let it. It causes unhelpful thoughts of worry to swirl around in our heads until we are left with no answers and no motivation to take action.