This is a photo of me during a trip to Antarctica. I can vividly remember my excitement when this penguin first approached me. Strict (and necessary) conservation rules mean that people are not allowed to approach the wildlife, so it’s very exciting when the animals take an interest in you!
My excitement was only a temporary distraction from the panic and anxiety that were rising inside of me. Having ascended to a high point on an icy hill, I turned around, looked down and felt sick at the thought of making my way back down. A few months earlier, on a hike, I discovered I have a fear of slopes that I was previously unaware of. Usually very calm, the sensations of my heart pounding in my chest, my palms sweating despite the icy temperature and the awful nausea, were overwhelming for me. I didn’t know how I would get down or what to do. I also felt incredibly embarrassed by my inability to do something so simple; something every other person seemed fine with. Words of ‘reassurance’ such as, “So what if you fall? You’ll be fine”, made me feel worse. In the end, I had to hold on to someone and we slowly walked down together. I was terrified.
I knew walking down the hill would be an issue but it didn’t stop me from going up. Had I stayed in the safety and comfort offered by the cruise ship, I would’ve missed out on so many opportunities, so much excitement, joy and wonderful memories that I now cherish. I also wouldn’t have this experience of overcoming my fear (albeit with a lot of help) to refer back to over the coming days, when I was presented with similar situations. Overcoming fears can challenge our ideas of what we think we are capable of, enabling us to achieve even more.
If you have a fear that you are ready to face, try the following tips*:
1) Acknowledge your fear
We all have fears and many are irrational. This doesn’t make them any less real to us, regardless of what other people may think. Don’t wait for anyone to validate your fear, recognise it and be ok with it. Having a fear doesn’t make you any less capable, it just means that certain things may be more challenging but the rewards when you achieve what you set out to do, will be much greater.
2) Visualise facing your fear
Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and imagine you have overcome your fear. How does it feel? How did you do it? What can you do now? Make it as real as you possibly can. Everything starts in the mind so if you can visualise overcoming fear, that’s a big step towards doing it for real. Thinking about what will happen if you don’t face your fear can be helpful too. What will you miss out on? What might happen if you don’t take action?
3) Develop a coping strategy
This will vary greatly depending on what your fear is. For me, it was having someone to hold on to. The point is to anticipate the fear and have a plan in place for how you will handle it, if and when panic hits. The more prepared you are, the more reassured you will feel in the moment. You may not be able to prevent fear from kicking in but you can take steps to make it more manageable when it does.
The day after I made it down the first hill, I walked down another using walking poles, with someone next to me. Two days later I walked down a much steeper hill, on my own and completely unaided! It was a major achievement for me; one that I look back on with much pride. I took way longer than anyone else and there were a few screams along the way, but I did it. My motivation came from a fellow traveller who was rude to me! Shortly before reaching the slope in the picture below, we were walking along a narrow path, in single file, and I had to stop due to some penguins blocking it. A woman shouted at me, very rudely, in front of lots of people, to hurry up, even though I was unable to. I was furious at her thinking it was ok to shout at me, even more so in front of such a large group! Instead of taking it up with her, I channeled my anger into walking down that slope and proving to myself, and the world, that I could do it. And I did! The moral of the story is, if all else fails, get angry!
*If fear is impacting on your daily life, please consider seeking professional support.