My palms were clammy. My stomach was making inhuman noises. I could feel my heart beating quickly – what the heck was my heart doing in my adam’s apple?? My mouth went completely dry. I reached for the phone and started dialing. As I opened my mouth to speak, my 15-year-old voice cracked. I had to clear my throat, and start over. “Um, hi, is Robbie there? This is, uh, Kara, from school.”
Robbie accepted my painfully awkward invitation to come to a church dance with me. I hung up, and the endorphins were pumping. That rush of relief/joy/excitement/pride/energy/thrill … but mostly relief, was, truth be told, better than our night at the dance. My confidence level and self-esteem got a much needed boost, and I was rewarded for facing the fear of inviting a boy out. Not all my tales of bravery had a positive outcome, but that’s life. And life is scary. Way more tragic is walking through life too fearful to try something new and challenging, to push out of our comfort zone and to discover new things about ourselves along the way.
Scared = vulnerable
Nothing makes us more aware of our own vulnerabilities than doing something that really scares us. Facing scary things and trying to conquer them is a great way to acknowledge vulnerabilities and accept them. Researcher and vulnerability expert Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” That seems about right – it’s how we feel when we are facing scary stuff. Here is the kicker, though: She reminds that vulnerability is “the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” She also points out that embracing our own vulnerability is at the core of human connections – our ability to empathize, love and belong. (1)
But scary things make me anxious
Fear creates some problems beyond the actual thing that scares us. Bowing to fear can actually increase overall anxiety. Sadly, most people attempt to cope with feelings of anxiety by avoiding situations or objects make them feel this way. Every time we avoid a feared situation, our anxiety team gets a point and our strength team loses one. Avoidance can give the feared thing more power and can actually increase the fearful reactions over time. As an example, if you avoid the elevator at work, you may begin to avoid all elevators, and then all buildings with elevators, etc. Psychologists have also concluded that when we actively avoid something that frightens us, we experience a sense of failure, even if it is only small. Accumulations of these little mental failures are not good for our self esteem and confidence. There is only one way out of this conundrum: “exposure, habituation, and practice.” (2) Simply put, we have to face it, try it and repeat until we are used to it. The results will be boosted confidence and less overall anxiety.
Fear is very human, and by the way, coded into our DNA for a reason – without it we would make some awful decisions and not last very long as a species. But so many fears are unnecessary, and they damage our well being by controlling or limiting us. The more we face our fears, the more we face our own vulnerabilities, helping us connect and understand each other better. Challenge yourself often and long enough, and those nagging fears will eventually lose their power over you.