Making Fear Work For You

Written by Meaghan Heighway, LMHC-P

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933). At first glance, this popular quote seems ridiculous – you may be thinking, “I wish fear was all I am afraid of!” It’s true, in this modern society we have a lot which causes us to be afraid, and with good reason. When so many don’t have enough money to put a good meal on our table, fear is a very real feeling.

But FDR’s quote goes on to note that the type of fear we should be afraid of is the kind which paralyzes us, which prevents us from moving forward. We don’t need to be scared of that paralysis, we need to respect it and do what we can to work with it. That overwhelming cold wave of paralyzing terror when we receive a third notice for our heating bill, is a very normal thing. But because it is normal, that’s where we can gain the upper hand, and turn it into something that will help us. We can make fear work for us.

The most important way we can make fear work for us, is realizing that we are not alone. Especially when we feel afraid, we tend to withdraw into ourselves, by shutting people out. We may get trapped into a cycle of thinking, “I am all alone. There is no way I can fix this.” Fear becomes powerless when we acknowledge that it is just a feeling, one that everyone has experienced. Even though no one has ever been in our exact situation, a lot of people have gone through similar experiences and lived to tell about it. When we feel alone, acknowledge that – and try on the belief that this is not true.

A second way we can make fear work for us is by using our body’s natural response. We’ve all experienced the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, where we feel compelled to either attack or run away from a threat. This surge of fear is uncomfortable, but it has a good meaning: it’s there to let us know that something isn’t right, and we need to take action to start repairing what’s broken. In this sense, fear is there to let us know something’s wrong, like a smoke alarm chirping when something’s burning on the stove.

Another way we can make fear work for us is in knowing when to step back and let go. If we are doing the best we can, with what we know at the time, the rest of it is truly out of our hands. The expectations that we will be perfect or have enough energy to do everything needed at once to fix a situation is impossible and unrealistic.

Why not try an experiment this week? The next time you feel afraid, remind yourself of FDR’s quote, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and choose to move forward. Practice telling yourself that you are not alone, and that there are resources in your community that may be able to help your situation (a local branch of Christian Counseling Ministries, for example). Use the sense of fear to motivate you to make some changes – it could be placing a phone call, checking out the job ads, or taking an extra shift at work. Finally, assess the situation: have you done all you could do for today? Even if you haven’t, realize you are only human. Take a breath, and let it out, reminding yourself that you’ve done good work today and tomorrow is another opportunity to make a change.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is intended to educate, inform and entertain. This does not represent psychotherapy, therapeutic assessment, or any other form of therapeutic intervention. This should not be used as a substitute for consultation and treatment with a licensed mental health professional. If you have questions related to the material contained in this site please contact CCM or a licensed mental health professional of your choice.

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