Fear . . . that deep, gut tickling feeling that sidles up next to you and screams, “Danger! Danger!” right in your ear.
Fear is important. Without it, we certainly wouldn’t survive childhood. If our parents didn’t have it, we wouldn’t make it out of infancy. In the Disney movie Inside Out (super cute, check it out), Fear is one of five core emotions that people need to function. So fear is not a bad thing. In fact, The Atlantic published an amazing article last year titled “What Happens to a Woman’s Brain When She Becomes a Mother” and one of their major findings was that a woman’s brain changes biologically to include more anxiety. That increased sense of fear is essential to her baby’s survival.
However, the majority of our fear responses aren’t in response to a survival situation at all. (OK, as a mother to two boys under the age of four, I feel like my fear response is often triggered by physically dangerous situations, but that’s more of an exception than the norm.) It’s much more common to get an adrenaline rush over a personal conflict or an awkward social situation. As a doula, I’m always thinking about how to minimize even the most minor conflicts to avoid giving the laboring mother a dose of adrenaline that might shut down her labor. It sounds weird, but I’ve seen it happen.
I started thinking about fear a lot yesterday when an opportunity came up for me to speak at a press conference regarding some legislation being pushed through in Wisconsin right now. It’s something I feel passionately about, so I’m excited for the chance to feel like I’m doing something – even if it’s small – but when I think about actually speaking in front of all those people, I can already feel my hands going numb. I was texting my friend about it yesterday, and she made a comment that I’m brave. I laughed and texted back, “We don’t know that yet. I might pee my pants and then pass out in front of everyone.”
And I’m not phobic about public speaking or anything. I’d say I have a pretty average fear of it. But what are we so afraid of? Messing up. Looking stupid or unintelligent. Doing something embarrassing. All of those situations are awkward, obviously, but they’re hardly life threatening. And how often do we let our fear stop us from following through with potentially amazing opportunities?
Whenever I ponder big questions like this, it usually comes back to balance for me. We don’t need to live life so recklessly that we’re constantly putting ourselves in physical danger, but neither do we want to let fear of an awkward moment stop us from partaking in the best experiences in life. Every great marriage started with an awkward first date. Every person’s life started with the overwhelming experience of childbirth. But those initial investments of dealing with fear have tremendous payoffs.
After my divorce, which was almost eight years ago now, I finally realized that I was strong enough to survive emotional upheaval. An awkward situation was not going to kill me. And that realization made me braver than I’d ever been before. Now, when I feel the warm flush of fear creeping up my chest and neck, I consciously step back and identify what I’m afraid of. And if it’s something that I can cope with – like tripping on my way to the microphone, for instance – I’ve stopped letting it control me. It’s a good, liberated feeling.
Note: The Wisconsin bill I’m speaking about today, AB 554, would make it easier for municipalities to privatize water utilities, which would take away accountability for the people controlling our water. If you’re in Wisconsin, or if you have similar bills being passed in your own state, please take the time to educate yourself and contact your legislators. Related links are below: