How to Overcome Fear & Anxiety: 5 Strategies
"We know what we are, but not what we may be" - Shakespeare
Does starting a new project, building a website, or networking sound daunting to you?
Trying something new means getting uncomfortable because it’s something you’ve never done before. But there are a lot of things you didn’t know how to do that you learned, right? If that's the case, then fear was learned too.
The other side of the fear coin is failure, but failure of what? What if you fail, what if you don’t know what you’re doing, what if your parents don’t approve. However, these are assumptions you have no control over. If you give your dominant thoughts to failure, what you're doing is rehearsing for it. Is that the script you want for your life?
Face the Fear
Fear is about control, and what you can't control, an outcome, how things will play out, leaves you with doubt. You have 'what if...' thoughts. With that line of thinking, you also miss out on what if you can achieve, or you can focus on things you can control - like being in the present and taking one step at a time.
Surrender to what you can control and leave the rest behind. Regardless if some of your assumptions have merit or not those are not your thoughts. Rather, you’re being influenced by outside sources. Do not seek external validation before you determine your own inner worth because then you're already setting yourself up for failure. You will never start, or you will never be satisfied. If your thoughts are racing on everything, it's very difficult to focus on just the now. Shift this over-think - meditate, journal, create a voice note, dance, let it out and then recalibrate.
Despite that, we habitually rely on opinions and validations for our own happiness and talents. Habits take time to break. Ultimately, we get rewarded for doing the familiar and if we move away from the fight-or-flight, chemicals in our brain surge. Yet, fear is often an area artist (and non-artists) voice as a challenge and barrier to starting something. From showcasing your work – now people really can judge your work, or what if they don’t like it? But what if they do!? To business skills such as negotiating, sales, pitching, all seem scary, but remember everyone was first an amateur. You don’t have to know all things at once – you will learn them over time and when you’re ready.
Take it one step at a time (it's a lot I know)
There are a lot of steps to the business process, not everyone gets rich or noticed overnight, you might have to rebrand, or research your ideal client, or hire an expert - these are things every business owner learns. You have to know why you want to start a business first. You just need the first step, which is name the fear, know you have the courage and create positive change. Look at your inspirations they started from the bottom.
We want to be a whole person and as a whole person. Fear is a normal emotion, but it's also a message.
This post isn’t going to tell you to recite positive affirmations or that staying positive is the key to overcoming fear because it really isn’t. Anyone who tells you that is considering only part of the picture.
Similarly, diving in the deep end won’t always work. You typically have two choices; you either develop the skill, or accommodate it. Developing the skill can look like networking. If you're an introvert, you can develop the skills of practicing what you're going to say and approaching people one at a time. You can also start by attending small, cozy events and not large conferences. Alternatively, if you accommodate and justify that fear by meeting people and doing all of your business only online, (I'm unsure if this is possible), and you might end up achieving a sufficient amount of business online. Now, while the second option is rare because your art and marketing will really have to speak for itself, you don't necessarily want to use crutches to accommodate your fears.
You want to be a whole person and as a whole person, fear is a normal emotion, but it's also a message. It's telling you to go for it if you really value what's on the other side of fear - your dreams. Fear will always be present and that's okay, it's a healthy signal that you are interested or alert.
Some strategies to overcome fear
- Understand the brain: our brains prefer predictability. Back in the day when we were just surviving, we chose fight-or-flight responses, and now, we still use those shortcuts. Our brains prefer to reward us for things familiar and routine. That’s why it’s difficult to take the first step into a new, unfamiliar routine, but doing so is important. Imagine what the first step might be. But also what will happen if you don't take that step? Look 5 years into the future - are you ok with that decision?
- Question who you were before: you might have learned the fear of groups as a child, maybe the pressure or embarrassment was too much. As much as you learned all things, you can unlearn things as well. We forget to access our hearts and minds and tend to let our fears overwhelm us. Write down where you learned to fear.
- Listen without attachment: your emotions do not define you. They come and go. Listen to what your fears are, understand them, acknowledge them and decide you are going to work with and around them. Read, meditation, research, and speak with other artists.
- Reframe your fears: journal and write out all of your fears. Why are they fears? Where did you learn them? What event in your past created those fears? How can you respond differently today?
- Create a sense of community: connecting with like-minded artists, and speaking on challenges you deal with, can make you feel less isolated and is self-affirming. Fear is something a lot of new and professional artists deal with. You might also receive advice from those in similar situations.
Finally, reflect on your newfound life that is choosing courage over fear each step of the way. Remember to return to your place of reflection. What did you learn, what are you proud of, what are you grateful for? Focus on progress and not perfection. This will help you stay focused on the good in addition to the inner work you’ve been doing.
Now, you might not be the person to jump off a plane, parachuting down into fear. But letting go of fear patterns and becoming friends with fear will create a new response. Developing other skills such as patience, compassion, and courage will help you focus on who you do want to be, and are. Every habit can be developed. Take your time, put in the hours, and wait for these habits to emerge as you pursue your art.
Community Economic Development, retired analogue photographer, and other fun social justice chit-chat. Toronto. MBA ’19. Twitter @SalomehA