One of the most debilitating emotions that we must contend with in our journey through life is fear.
During the past 18 months since the beginning of 2020 the pervasive fear is associated with the Covid19 pandemic. Fear of contracting the disease, fear of infecting others, fear of the economic consequences of the disease, fear of losing my job or my business, or important clients. These are all valid fears based on equally valid and real threats.
But they need not be debilitating.
We, and all our ancestors going back as far as you like, have always experienced fear. Fear pervades everything. It has always been here. It has kept our species alive for millennia, it accounts for many behavioural aberrations and for some significant successes. One thing is certain, though, fear cannot be ignored. You do that at your peril.
Of course, there is not just one type of fear. Or one intensity. There are many variations of this phenomenon. It is important to recognise this and begin to recognise the different variances.
Fear and resilience are first cousins. Resilience requires a strong, healthy body and mind to be fully effective. Dealing with fear effectively is also done better when one is strong and healthy and in possession of a finely focussed mind.
Confusion itself can be seen to be a form of fear. It is an uncertainty about what is happening and what to do next that causes this confusion and the resultant anxiety that accompanies it.
It is when this begins to spread at the communal level that the quality of leadership plays a pivotal role. Good leaders provide a sense of direction; a sense of ‘if we work together, we will be stronger together and we will create something positive and special for ourselves in the future, together!’
At the individual level, the most resilient amongst us do the same thing. They focus beyond the immediate threat, while they deal with the immediate issues in a variety of different ways depending on the level of threat, the immediacy of the risk or the long-term consequences of either making or not making a decision immediately. What great leaders do is that they do not do nothing. They take some form of visible action, even if that is to just communicate a plan to those that depend on them. People like to know what is going to happen.
We can do this for ourselves and save ourselves from the fear of failure or ill-health, or whatever other risk we may be facing by doing something positive. To do nothing is not an option!
Doing nothing is the ‘Freeze’ option response to fear: Freeze, Flee, Fight.
In all of these, the body’s physiological response is to flood one with adrenaline. Everything goes into overdrive. Recognising the symptoms is critical to dealing with the challenge. These include a spike in heart rate, dryness of mouth, sweating and a sense of panic.
When you speak to those who have lived through high stress, life-threatening situations, one of the common threads in describing their experiences is that they say that it seemed as though everything started to happen in slow motion. This is the effect of the adrenaline.
There is a fourth ‘F’ that is seldom spoken about in this type of discussion, and that is the ‘F’ in Focus.
If you can learn to recognise the symptoms of the 4F response then the next step it is to learn how to channel that energy positively. It starts with learning to focus under these challenging conditions. It means focussing totally on the issue at hand and not allowing oneself to become distracted (which is very difficult to do but essential) by the stressors and the noise that often accompanies stressful events. You need to focus on outcomes rather than on the stressor; focus beyond the current situation. As soon as you have an outcome in vision it then becomes possible to draw the line between where you are and where you want to be. While all this happening concentrate on deep belly-breathing to lower you heart rate and state of agitation. This sounds simple. It is. But it takes practice to be able to activate this strategy in a real situation. Practice is required. This is one of the reasons why pilots must do so many hours in simulators so that they can practice operating ‘normally’ in high stress situations.
We can learn these skills too and put fear to flight.