Dealing with the emotion that is fear!

Published by mpume on

fear, anxiety, emotion

A Change Conversation with Phiona Martin – An Industrial Psychologist and Career Coach.

“Fear is a response to physical or emotional danger, whether it’s  a physiological response or emotional response, and it’s often triggered when one perceives a threat. It is perceived because sometimes the threat is real and sometimes it can be imagined.”  This was Phiona Martin’s definition of what fear is. Phiona is an Industrial Psychologist and Career Coach, whom I had an eye-opening interview with to try and understand what fear is and how it affects us at any given point in our life, whether it’s phobias, change in our career, and business. I learnt that sometimes, fear comes from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers and it can be a symptom of real mental health conditions which could include post traumatic disorders, panic disorders or phobias. While commonly painted in a negative light, fear can actually serve as an important role in keeping us safe as it prepares us to cope with potential danger- it compels you to act when there is a threat. But when fear becomes recurrent, persistent, intense, and interferes with basic life tasks such as work and sleep, it needs to be dealt with. Finding ways to control your fear can assist to better cope with it.

Causes of Fear

Fear of the unknown. Uncertainty is part of our lives, whether we like it or not. While others may thrive in uncertain times, others become emotionally paralysed. People often respond to uncertainty depending on how afraid they are of the unknown. Other fears are based on concrete evidence, such as snake phobias, and the like, but fear of what you don’t know is totally different, and maybe we can all appreciate its magnitude. It is scary to be afraid of something you have no knowledge about on any level, and such uncertain circumstances become unbearable to people. As a result people become prone to worrying, and imagining the worst, which leads to creating inaccurate views of their reality.

What causes fear of the unknown sometimes is lack of control of your circumstances. Let’s take for example, fear of change in the context of a career change. A career change can be scary—to an extent that the anxiety can paralyse you if you are not careful. Even so now that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the employment landscape is changing every waking day.

We find all kinds of excuses to avoid taking that leap of faith. Mostly that fear comes from us building our “comfort zones” that become a detriment when we have to make a change. The ability to master the courage to go after our dreams becomes a struggle,  you find ways to rationalise things in your head; “Who am I fooling? “I can’t make a living out of this idea.” “I can’t afford to go back to school in order to make a career change.” “It’s not the right time to change jobs. After all, there is so much uncertainty in the economy.” “I have invested so many years in this career, I would be nuts to make a change now.”

However, it is said that seeds for change can be planted in a time of crisis. A time of crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic can make people rethink their priorities and open up new opportunities that didn’t exist before.

How to manage the fear of change in a pandemic

The emergence of Covid-19 presented the need for urgent, high-stakes changes that have forced people; both individuals and businesses to make faster and more agile decisions. Some ways to help you navigate through a crisis:

  1. You need to be mentally well, take the time to grieve and process your reality.
  2. Set micro targets for a week, have a weekly plan for example, you can give yourself a target to update your CV and register on two job portals etc.
  3. Write down what’s within your control and things that are out of your control and work with what you have.
  4. Rethink and reposition yourself differently- be aware of your reality and rebrand yourself.
  5. Get yourself a “Survival job” – it may not be what you want but do anything that helps you get through the challenging times.

How to overcome fear

01 – Identify the root cause of your fear. The inability to identify the cause prevents us from being able to remove ourselves, or the actual threat, from the situation.   

  1. Acknowledge your fears.  Write down your fears down so you have them in an objective form and can stop dwelling on them.
  2. Acknowledge the change. The first most important thing to do in the presence of unsettling changes, is to acknowledge it.
  3. When making a career change, fear can be transformed into positive energy. The key is to turn fear into an agent that will drive you so that you can take small steps toward your goal.
  4. Rather than resist fear or try to ignore it, make friends with it. It’s not easy to push forward in spite of fear, but it’s necessary to accomplish your goals.
  5. Bite the bullet. Avoid avoidance. You can’t overcome what you cannot confront.
  6. Do your research. You may lessen your fear by arming yourself with more information.
  7. Take actions to reduce the possibility of negative outcomes by listing factors that are within your control and make a step-by-step plan to manage and eventually overcome your fear.
  8. Do get support from those close to you, you can enlist the help of trustworthy people to guide you and hold you accountable.
  9. Try out different careers. Research and informational interviews are important because they help you gauge what new career opportunity you can delve into.
  10. Finally, seek professional intervention if the fear is persistent and prolonged. A therapist may be able to help you process your fears and devise strategies to reframe your thinking in helpful ways. 

02 – Take the conversation out of your head

Most of the time, the fear is a conversation that we have by ourselves in the head. Mastering fear involves not only learning how to identify the cause but changing the conversation in your mind.  A few practical examples to get you started.

  1. Speak to people that know you really well so that they curate the things they think you are really good at.
  2. Look at what you have accomplished, small or big and give yourself credit for those personal achievements.
  3. Do self-awareness exercises, especially with people that are not so close to you but know you well in a work environment such as your colleagues – ask them to give input on your work ethics, leadership skills and your general performance and interactions with them.


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