I’ve always been a thrill-seeker. As a kid I’d rush straight to the highest roller-coaster and throw myself down the death slide without looking back. It wasn’t that they didn’t scare me (they did), it was more that I appreciated the rush of looking fear straight in the face, putting my middle finger up at it and doing it anyway. Life in the slow lane seemed pointless, as a kid.
Fear is a funny thing. Sometimes the scariest things can be the least obvious. Everyone has different fear triggers and, for me, the things that others might find scary often don’t hold the same level of bone crippling anxiety. Jumping out of a plane, for example, or appearing on the This Morning sofa in nothing but bodypaint – both things I did last week, as it happens.
The things that bring me fear are the thought of something happening to my kids, the state of the economy and the logistics of any travel plans. I always get travel anxiety – not because I think the plane might crash but because I’m terrified I’ll be late and miss my flight. Silly, I know.
Over the last couple of weeks many people have told me I’m “so brave”. A mixture of doing live interviews about Naked Beach, appearing on telly in the buff and putting myself “out there” in ways many others don’t, seems to give people the idea I’m some sort of superhuman. I’m not. I’m just like you, really. It’s just that my particular (and often quite annoying) skillset is talking, cameras and microphones bring me absolutely no fear and neither does my own naked body. That’s not to say other things don’t turn me into a quivering wreck though (Great White sharks – AAAAAAAARGH!!!! Late trains – AAAAAAAAARGH!!!!), we all have our fear triggers.
I think the trick with fear is doing it anyway. It’s a cheesy Pinterest style attitude and I can see you rolling your eyes already, but it’s true. Because as soon as you actually do something that makes you quiver with doubt it often holds far less fear. I can still get those stomach curdling moments of sheer panic that I’ve made all the wrong life choices and it’s all going to end horribly, but I find that as soon as I do the thing that triggers that panic, or ride the wave of the fear, it suddenly holds far less power over me.
There’s this idea that confident people don’t feel fear, and it’s a lie. Only a robot or someone completely devoid of human emotions will never feel fear. It’s built in us, part of being a living creature, as natural as the urge to eat when we’re hungry. Fear is nothing to fear. It’s what you do with that fear that ultimately counts. How you let it define your existence and shrink or widen your world.
There is no shame in feeling fear. The shame comes if we let it govern all our choices, or try to disguise it as another emotion – letting it fuel our anger or hatred or negativity towards others. That’s when fear gets dangerous.
This is also where I feel fear and self-love are so intrinsically linked. A lot of the time the fear we feel can bring about a really negative reaction – either towards ourselves or others. We feel scared at the thought of baring our flesh on the beach, for example, so we lash out at ourselves (dieting or extreme over-exercise or a barrage of negative self-talk) or others (body shaming anyone who doesn’t look like us or judging others from a place of our own fear and body insecurities). But if we learned how to own that fear, nurture it and turn it into something positive we might be a step closer to learning to like ourselves just as we are, and in turn be kinder to those around us.
I don’t believe there are any expert ways of tackling fear, because we are all ultimately so different. But I do believe in looking inwards and finding out why certain things bring us that jelly in the legs feeling. And then looking inwards some more and exploring why we react to fear in the way that we do.
How about you? What are your fear triggers? How do you react to fear? What does it take to help you face fear down and walk straight into it?