“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
As we start a new year, a lot of people – including maybe you – will be starting their new year’s resolutions.
I’m all for resolutions. I love that we all collectively decide that, on this day, we all change something we don’t like about ourselves. I think there’s value in doing these things en masse, since it instantly provides people to support you and to bond with over your struggles & successes. I’m always a supporter of wanting to be healthier, fitter, and overall a better person. I’m also, as proven by my own countless challenges, a supporter of challenging yourself.
But today, I would like to suggest to you a different resolution, one that I think is incredibly important and would do a lot of people a lot of good.
You see, I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. Someone had told her that you should always listen to your fear. I don’t remember the specifics, but I think it was something along the lines of “you can trust your body, and you should listen to your fear because it’s telling you something important”.
I’m here to tell you today: don’t do that. Just don’t. I’m here to suggest to you today: do the things that scare you. Don’t listen to that fear.
Of course, there are exceptions. You should be careful in traffic, you should be careful if you’re outside late at night by yourself. And sometimes a small amount of fear can keep you focused, it can help keep you on edge and respond quicker.
But overall? We live in a society where we constantly get bombarded with things we should be afraid of. From reports that all processed meats cause cancer to reports that mental illness is on the rise, the murders and terrorist attacks on the news, to ‘is he cheating on you? Here are 10 signs’. We’re being spoon fed paranoia, and it’s no wonder that anxiety problems are increasing rapidly.
I myself have anxiety & panic disorder. I’m not allowed to look up symptoms or diseases, ever. I don’t make much of an effort to keep up with the news, outside of following some news outlets on Twitter. I still carry around hand sanitizer wherever I go, and wash my hands way too often each day. I’m familiar with that strange, twisting feeling in your stomach, it’s almost always here with me.
But here’s what I learned in several years of dealing with this on a daily basis: you don’t overcome it unless you face it. You don’t overcome your fear by avoiding whatever it is you’re scared of. It’ll just make you more scared.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
Last week, I was at Aikido practice. I’ve joined this club a couple of months ago, and I’ve definitely been making some progress. But I still have difficulty with falling and rolling, I still always put the wrong foot first, roll wrong, I’ve definitely had my neck in strange angles a couple of times. I’ve had massive bruises on my arms. And last week, our teacher decided to practice some techniques that terrified me. They looked like I might just break my neck while trying them, they looked way too advanced for me, and I could feel myself starting to panic and wanting to back out. My first impulse was “I can’t do this, this is too dangerous for me, I need to back out.”
I didn’t. Before I could gather my courage to say no, one of the others had asked me to practice with them, and I decided to go with them. I tried the new techniques. I’m typing this in my own bedroom, so obviously I didn’t break my neck – didn’t break anything, in fact! I landed on my side a bit hard at one point, so that part does hurt, but there’s no bruising or anything, so it’s just a bit sore.
And I learned something. I didn’t just learn the new techniques – because let’s face it, I pretty much forgot them already because that shit was complicated af. But I did learn that I am very much capable of pushing my boundaries, and have fun while I’m at it. I learned – AGAIN – that most things aren’t nearly as scary as they look. And I also learned that if I push myself too much, I end up really nauseous because of the stress. And I learned that everybody will just go “ok, take your time” if you say you’re going to stay seated for a while because you’re nauseous. No further explaining necessary. Turns out most people are really relaxed about a lot of things. It’s not a big deal. But I did get to go home and make another mental note of something I’m proud of.
So here’s what I would like to suggest as a resolution, whether you have an anxiety disorder or not: do something you’re scared of. Book a ticket for that one movie you want to see, but no one else wants to come with you and you’re scared of going alone. Take that trainride. Join that club you’ve wanted to join for ages but were too scared of what everyone else will think of you.
Everyone else is too busy thinking of themselves to think of you. How often do you think about others, how often do you ridicule others for something they want to do? I’m going to hazard a guess and say ‘not often’.
And don’t get me wrong: there will be times where you give in to the fear. There will be times where you’re tired or stressed or the fear is just too much to handle. And that’s fine. Here’s what you’ll learn from that: sometimes it’s alright to take care of yourself first. You don’t wake up one day and say ‘from now on, I’m going to do this differently’. It’s hard work, and doesn’t always come easily, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
But you will come out a better person either way.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
― Nelson Mandela