BCP About Fear and Bravery

How to be Brave in the Face of Fear

by Brisbane City Psychologist Kate Day

“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

Fear is uncomfortable. It can lead your heart to race, your palms to sweat, your stomach to churn and your thoughts to scatter.

Fear is supposed to be protective; a warning sign to tell you to stop and think before you expose yourself to something life-threatening. It is like a smoke detector – fear doesn’t tell you that the house is burning down or if you’ve just burnt some toast. It lets you know that there is smoke, you should check it out and then decide if you have to start breakfast over or if you need to get down low and go, go, go!

Sometimes you may find the feeling of fear so aversive or overwhelming that you actively avoid doing things that have the possibility of leading you to feel afraid. You may make excuses or procrastinate, allowing the fear to build in your mind. The more you avoid instead of investigating, the more convinced your brain is that there is something dangerous that needs evading. Your brain wants you to survive this dangerous world, and so it looks for more and more clues that something you fear could occur to try to keep you safe. Your brain starts to see signs of cataclysmic disaster everywhere – in your thoughts, in your feelings, in your surroundings.  Fear can leash you from engaging fully in life.

The Fear Antidote: Bravery

Fortunately, there is an antidote to the paralysing state of fear! Being brave is a skill that can be acquired and mastered. It’s all about learning how to tolerate the feeling of fear; to stop and consider if the house is actually burning down, or if the smoke detector has just given you a bit of a fright. It is the capacity to function despite feeling afraid.

The following tips may help you in your journey to becoming braver.

Challenge Unhelpful Thoughts

Ask yourself: What is my brain telling me could happen here?

What am I really afraid of? Acknowledge that it is okay that your brain is worried, even if it seems irrational. The part of your brain responsible for your fear response is different from the part that does the rational thinking.

What is the evidence that this will occur?

Bravery is not about jumping into every dangerous situation blindly. It is about being able to deal with the feeling of fear long enough to weigh up the risks figure out if the benefits outweigh the costs.

Become
Aware

Start by acknowledging when you’re feeling afraid and that it is okay; it is just your brain warning you to check the situation out some more.

Build
Resilience

Just like fitness, bravery also requires us to build resilience. To push past barriers, you may have made for yourself and to experience discomfort to get stronger.

Start
Small

It also pays to start small and build up momentum, so the changes you are trying to make are sustainable and not overwhelming.  Starting small also increases your chances of success!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice being brave every day. Just like any skill, you have to practice being brave. You have to work at building your tolerance to feeling fear and not having your brain meltdown on you. It’s a bit like working toward being able to run a marathon or to lift heavy weights; the more you invest in the training, the easier it becomes, and the faster you improve.

Being brave isn’t just about jumping out of aeroplanes. It is about trying new things; being vulnerable; admitting when you’re wrong; risking making a mistake; not avoiding uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. The more you practice being brave, the braver you become.

Helpful Resources To Try Out

The Steps of Graded Exposure

Learning to Face Fear

Experiential Avoidance and Career Paralysis

Although resources are great tools in getting your journey started, it may also be helpful to engage with a health professional, such as a GP or psychologist, if you aren’t sure where to start, would like some help along the way, or aren’t sure if this approach is for you.  Feel free to give us a call, and our friendly staff can help to point you in the right direction.