What do you do when you feel scared?
Do you clam up? Do you get defensive? Do you run away?
When strong emotions are threatening to knock you off balance, here’s one thing that has really helped me:
Realize that you are not your thoughts.
(And that you are not your feelings either.)
Let me explain.
I’ve become quite familiar with fear. When I was working my way out of burnout, I realized that I was afraid of innumerable things:
What if I had gone to the bookstore instead of getting a cup of coffee—would I feel happier now? What if I tell my friend that I don’t like what he did—will he start hating me? What if, when I’m on that date tonight, she loudly tells me that I am obviously not in her league and the whole bar laughs at me?
Fear can make you tremble, like when you’re about to get on stage in front of a hundred people and your knees get weak. It can also hurt you more slowly, like what happened to me during my burnout, when I was scared of everything and I could never truly rest as a result.
Fear can knock you off balance. So can the other three main negative emotions: sadness, anger, and shame.
But when you feel afraid, that doesn’t mean you are afraid. If you pay close attention, you might notice that you feel all sorts of emotions in rapid succession: fear, worry, doubt, confusion, sadness, surprise, joy.
To acknowledge this reality, and to emphasize to yourself that this emotion is temporary and will pass, you can use a language trick. Instead of telling yourself “I am afraid”, or even “I feel fear”, say:
“Fear is passing through my consciousness”.
Yes, it sounds silly at first. But I encourage you to think about it. Eventually, you will begin to see that it makes sense, that it is true.
You are not your thoughts and you are not your feelings either. Point that out to yourself again and again, and you will stay a little more balanced in the midst of strong emotions.
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