When something scares us, it’s normal to step back from it. Fear’s message is loud and clear: “Don’t do that! What if…?!” But did you know that every time we listen to fear, it grows a little bit stronger? Avoiding doing the scary thing comes with a wave of relief: Phew, I freed myself from fear and escaped potentially painful consequences, like being embarrassed or feeling disappointed. I feel so much better. But while we feel relieved, fear never learns that it was wrong.
It never gets the chance to see that you actually could have survived that worst-case scenario it dramatically conjured up, or to discover that things weren't quite as bad as it predicted. Instead, through avoidance, fear is reinforced, so that the next time you consider doing that same scary thing, the fear is slightly bigger.
This helps explain why anxiety gets worse over time. Repeatedly avoiding things that make you afraid can cause mild fear to escalate into paralysing anxiety over time.
The good news is that as much as fear grows one avoidance at a time, it reduces one courageous act at a time.
Every time you take a deep breath, step forward and face your fear, fear learns a beautiful lesson: that you were actually okay, in the end, and it needn’t make such a big deal of things next time around. Now, I’d love to hear from you:
Is there a fear you can invite yourself to take a step towards?