5 Ways to Manage Fear

Here’s a question for you. What if, over this next week, you kept track of how many times you felt fear. Just a simple list on a piece of paper, stating what you were afraid of, why, and what you did about it. And then, at the end of the week, you reviewed your list and crossed off the fears that failed to come to fruition. How many remain? If we tracked our fears like we tracked the number of steps we walk each day, I wonder what we, as collective members of society, would learn.

Let’s start with what fear is. Per Dictionary, fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” Similar words include terror, fright, horror, alarm, panic, agitation.

I believe there are two components of fear. Emotional (which is mentioned above) and Rational (which is not mentioned.) They use the words “likely to cause pain, or a threat.” They don’t say how likely.

The tension between the Emotional and the Rational is usually skewed toward the emotional. Think about this:

  1. 25% of the population suffers from Glassophobia (terrified of public speaking). I was unable to find any death statistics associated with this fear.
  2. 30% of the population is terrified by snakes. Wikipedia states that 7,000 to 8,000 people receive a venomous snake bite per year in the United States, resulting in about five deaths.
  3. 51% of us are afraid to dip our toes into the ocean least we get eaten by a shark. Wikipedia states that on average, 16 people are attacked by sharks yearly in the United States, with one fatality every two years.

Are those fears rational or emotional? Which should you be most afraid of, snakes or sharks? Or is it public speaking?

Bottom line: Unless you’re Spock from Star Trek, and most of us are not, emotional energy is more powerful than rational energy. Fear management is energy management. Do not waste your precious energy on unproductive behaviors.

Making the rational conclusion that managing the emotion within our fears would help us increase our sense of well-being, let’s dive into Fear Management 101.

FEAR MANAGEMENT 101

I was interviewed about fear and crisis for a podcast / tv-cast. I’m going to summarize some it and I invite you to listen and learn more here.  I can’t thank Becky Hammond enough for being a spectacular interviewer.

Now, let’s create some context for this important adventure!

FEAR / CRISIS IS AN INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE

What I am afraid of may not be what you’re afraid of. What is a crisis for you is not a crisis for me, and vice versa. That’s why it is important to document your fears if only so that you gain clarity around them. It’s even better when you speak about those fears with someone because they may have an insightful perspective that supports you on the fear management journey. A trusted advisor, coach, mentor, friend – someone who is always steady in the midst of the hurricane. Who’s your go to person? You know who it is. Invite them to be your Fear Buddy and walk this path together.

Bottom line: Documenting and speaking about your fears instantly removes some of the power they have over you.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN BEING AFRAID

Much of the work I do with my teams revolves around fear and crisis management because that’s often when leaders and sports coaches seek help from me. Nobody says, “Gee, if there’s a pandemic next month, my team might suffer. I think I’ll call someone to help make sure we react well to a crisis!”  Nobody does that. It’s like preventative medicine. Instead, most people (like me) call the doctor when there is a problem. And by that point, due to the natural behavior of people avoiding problems until doing so is longer possible, the problem may be big, complex, and hard to resolve. The same is true of people and crisis management with teams.

In this early phrase of the journey, it’s important to watch your language. Here are a few do’s and don’ts:

  1. Don’t judge others. Each of us has a “fear lens” and we must not judge others through it. Don’t say, “It’s stupid be afraid of that!” or “I’m not afraid of that and you shouldn’t be either!”
  2. Don’t diminish their emotional response to the fear by saying unhelpful things like, “You shouldn’t worry.” Or, “That will never happen!” They’re worried. That bus has left the station.
  3. Instead, say things like, “Wow! That must weigh on you like a ton of bricks.” Or, “Oh my gosh, those are some hard things to work through! Let’s talk about it.” These are non-judgmental and validating. Do you see the difference? How you respond either helps or hurts the situation.

Bottom line: When fear or anxiety is poo-pooed by leaders, it doesn’t make fear go away. It INCREASES anxiety because now people have to figure out how to not be afraid of what they are afraid of, and struggle to hide their fear from others. Fear is one of those things that thrives in the dark. Managing our language around the topic can help prevent that unnecessary obstacle.

FEAR IS INTERNAL AND MAY LACK RATIONAL COMPONENTS

I’ve already touched upon this above, and let’s explore it further. Each of us is capable of creating our own disaster movie inside our head, which we often proceed to replay over, and over, and over again. It’s fueled by 24/7 cycle of social media, news, and well-intentioned people within our circle. Eventually, our fears jolt us out of our sleep, pops in uninvited when we’re trying to work, and triggers all sorts of physical reactions. Suddenly we’re a mess, and of little value to our team, family, and friends.

Bottom Line: Fear builds and is then amplified by over-thinking. There are ways to dampen it as well. Let’s look at those together.

FIVE STEPS TO MANAGE FEAR

Here’s my approach for working with people and teams in a crisis.

  1. Embrace the reality that fear exists and that we are in a crisis. This is validating and shows transparency – you don’t have a secret agenda to talk them out of their feelings. You must meet people where they are in order to move them past fear.
  2. Explore the source of the emotions and concerns. Write them down. Prioritize them in order of urgency (not emergency, URGENCY). Now, you have a list of items and challenges to respond to.
  3. Get specific on details by asking lots of open-ended questions. Ask the group about the rational component – “Is this likely to happen? How likely? How would we respond?” This is also a great time to use the 5 Why’s For each identified fear, ask (and answer!) this question 5 times, “Why does that scare you?” Each response gets you closer to the true source of the fear. It helps generate more fruitful solutions. This can be fun, generate laughter, and works well in with any size group. (NOTE: Don’t forget that children can engage in this process, too!)
  4. Finally, help the team respond well to the crisis by investigating options TOGETHER. Take that list of fears and target three ways to mitigate or respond to each one. This offers a huge opportunity to tap into the collective wisdom of the team – and each of us has wisdom to offer. When I do this with teams, I always point out that they created solutions by using the knowledge within. It was there all the time – I just help pull it out. The result is list of actions and coping mechanisms that are supportive and safe to speak about. This is a HUGE win for the team. NOTE: If you’ve taken the StrengthsFinder, ask people what strength(s) they can use to help manage personal fear and team fear. It’s a wonderful layer for solving problems like this.
  5. Do something for mankind! End with each person making at least one private commitment to give back to humanity. Nothing reduces own problems better than serving others. Each of us has time, talent, and money. Select ONE of those, make a specific commitment, and act upon it within 24 hours. Small is better than grand. And small sometimes becomes grand. There was a heart-warming story over the weekend about a 99-year-old WWII veteran from England who was challenged to walk around his garden 100 times before he turned 100. What happened next was AMAZING.

Bottom line: I don’t remove fear because that’s impossible. I help teams identify it, manage it, and sometimes, even harness it. We move from emotion to action which boosts morale. This exercise can be repeated every couple of weeks.

Now that you’ve read this blog, I invite you to go back to the beginning and read it again, identifying one or two places for you to engage, either alone, with a Fear Buddy, or with your team. Why?

One of two things will happen as a result of the Covid19 crisis and the inevitable passage of time.

  1. You (and your team / family) are WEAKER as a result of poor fear management in this crisis. That looks like less unity, sub-par results, and struggling relationships. People feel angry and resentful. We are smaller people as a result of this experience.
  2. You (and your team / family) are STRONGER as a result of productive fear management in this crisis. That looks like alignment, higher performance, and deeper human connections. People feel gratitude and hope. We are better people as a result of this experience.

Which will it be?

Let me know if I can help.

Maureen

2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Manage Fear

    • Thanks, Vicki! Noticing how we spend our time/money/energy (including tracking steps) and where we might maximize it is always a fun thing to do. A bit of a personal inventory. And fears are part of our inventory.

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