Lately, I’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster. Most of us are thanks to the Covid-19 Cyclone that’s ripping through our world. One minute you’re hopeful and energized the next dizzy, depressed, and overwhelmed.
I hate roller coasters, but I ride them anyway. Quieting your fight, flight, or freeze lizard brain and doing what scares you is empowering. Plus, I like challenging myself. Facing fear whether it’s riding a roller coaster, cliff jumping, filing for divorce or finding true love, public speaking, training for a marathon, traveling alone, or starting a business makes you stronger and more confident. And if you’re feeling stuck, roller coasters snap you out of your mundane existence and remind you that no matter how uncomfortable and afraid life feels you’re safe.
That’s why last fall I road La Chute. French for the fall or drop, La Chute is a waterpark ride at Jay Peak in Vermont. It starts 65 feet above ground so to ride you have to first climb five heart pounding flights of stairs to reach the top. After waiting in line and not chickening out, you’re greeted by a smug millennial who insures that the previous rider has survived and assures you, “We’ve never lost anyone, although a few people have gotten stuck.” Stuck? Ignoring your trepidation, he escorts you to a red tube and instructs you to cross your arms and legs and keep breathing. A clear door slides across the tube locking you in. There’s no turning back. You nervously await the countdown 3, 2, 1… Whoosh a trap door opens, and you drop 45 miles per an hour, flip through a 360-degree loop and 6 seconds later you arrive at the bottom transformed.
Roller coasters are a training ground for life, and these days we’re riding the Intimidator 305, the mother of all roller coasters. Every day we face a variety of fears – health twists and turns, dark tunnels of isolation and financial dives. There’s no choice but to strap in and ride uncertainty and the nauseating emotional ups and downs threatening to spin out of control.
Humans, and pretty much all animals, are programed to avoid uncertainty and danger. Our ancient, reptilian brain is programmed to keep us secure and small rather than expansive and happy. It takes mammoth amounts of motivation, energy and courage to face fear because we’re wired for safety not risk.
Research shows that the willingness to take risks declines as we age which is partially why so many women at midlife feel depressed or stuck like they’ve hit a wall. Change feels too risky so we tend to stay trapped in the known zone. Comfortably uncomfortable, we procrastinate, feel hopeless, are filled with self-doubt and scared of failing and making mistakes. But as Roy T. Bennett puts it,” You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Fortunately, it’s never too late to change and right now the new corona normal is a great catalyst to examine your life and make a shift. How do you start? You stop leaning into fear and start leaning on love. You make love your why. Love for yourself, which will motivate you to be bold and take chances so you feel fully alive and infused with joy. And love for others, which will inspire you to find your passion and purpose and make a difference in the world.
As a transformational coach for women at midlife my love is helping clients unleash the power within by examining their subconscious beliefs and knocking down their fear walls by taking action. Every day I hold client’s dreams and hands as they ride their personal fear roller coasters whether that’s starting a business, finding a fulfilling relationship, making serious lifestyle changes or moving across the world.
I know how challenging facing fear is. For years I played small and safe. I remained in a miserable marriage because I was scared of uncertainty. My lizard brain whispered: “How will you handle your finances? You’ll never find a new partner? What will happen to your children?”
I also hid my light from the world because I was afraid to step outside my spiritual closet. I buried my authentic, mystical self beneath academic degrees and worldly accomplishments. Even though I valued my spiritual tools, I was afraid that others would judge me for being a crystal carrying, tarot reading, essential oil diffusing, chakra balancing Reiki Master.
What’s amazing is that so many of these modalities once considered woo woo now are supported by science. For example, research shows that Reiki has a positive physiological response on people and animals. Additional research has shown that essential oils are more effective at killing lyme bacteria than antibiotics and also may be an effective therapy for depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
When I finally came out of the closet you know what happened? People loved my spiritual vibe and appreciated what I shared. Coupling alternative therapies and intuitive wisdom with my conventional training as a psychologist, registered dietitian, Mindful self-compassion Teacher and board certified health and wellness coach was powerful, fun and fulfilling.
As I safely ride roller coaster after roller coaster, I’ve come to realize that FDR was right, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” According to a 60 Minute’s poll, most Americans (A whopping 82%) agree with FDR, yet our actions are not in alignment with our beliefs. (On side note when asked which they fear will put an end to humanity 35% of Americans said a nuclear war while 23% said a deadly virus.) I’ve had countless conversations with women who have big dreams, but continue to play small. Personally, I’m more afraid of having regrets at the end of my life than taking risks now, which is why I confidently impose change on myself.
So what is your big, audacious dream? Who do you want to be when the Covid-19 Cyclone is over? When you look back at 2020 how do you want to remember it, as a year of fear or transformation? Now is the time to step outside your comfort zone and do what scares you.
Here are tips to help you ride your personal fear roller coaster.
Determine your why?
Get curious about why you want to move outside your comfort zone and do what scares you. How might you benefit and grow? What might you accomplish? How might facing fear help you get more comfortable with uncertainty and build resilience and courage (i.e. a path with heart)?
Fear and excitement are very similar physiologically. Both trigger the same cascade of hormones and reactions. To prepare for danger or excitement your heart beats faster, you sweat and release cortisol and adrenaline.
As humans we have the power to interpret the flash of sensations as excitement and anticipation or fear. For example, when we watch a scary movie, ride a roller coaster or even give birth we interpret the sensations as excitement, which changes the emotional experience. You have a choice.
5 Second Rule
Fear is paralyzing which is why it freezes you, BUT according to Mel Robbins you have 5 seconds to act before your lizard brain stops you. When you’re about to hesitate count down “5-4-3-2-1-GO” and just do it. According to Robbins, counting will keep you focused so you can step outside your comfort zone and act.
I use this powerful technique, created by Tim Ferriss with all my clients especially women who have great ideas but are scared because their plans feel risky. It’s a simple process that involves making several columns. In column one list all the worst-case scenarios you can think of. In the next columns write out how you could prevent the worst cases from happening, what you might do if they happen and how you might grow and benefit from going for it. Who knows even if you fail or things go wrong you might enjoy a novel experience, have fun, meet new people or learn.
Visualize the after glow
To your brain fiction and reality are surprisingly similar, which is partially why fear is so powerful. You can use this power of visualization to your advantage. Think of what you’d like to do after you step outside your comfort zone. For example, if you’re scared of public speaking imagine going out to dinner after you your talk. Afraid of flying? Visualize walking around and enjoying your destination city.
Let fear sit in the rear
Instead of pushing fear away, tell it to take a back seat. Talk to fear like Elizabeth Gilbert who writes in her marvelous book Big Magic:
” There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. ‘
One of the best ways to eliminate fear is commitment to taking action. Action keeps your brain focused on what you are doing rather than the emotions you are feeling. Commitment also boosts your confidence and in turn more confidence increases your desire to take action.
These days it feels like we’re living in Rumi’s Guest House: “Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor… the dark thought, the shame, the malice… Invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from above.”
I’m working on the grateful part, but I’ve learned to notice, name and observe my emotions without judgment. After I name what I’m feeling (i.e. this is fear or this is anxiety) and hold the feeling with awareness I can then take action to soothe and comfort myself.
Fortunately, as Kristin Neff explains: “Painful feelings are, by their very nature, temporary. They will weaken over time as long as we don’t prolong or amplify them through resistance or avoidance. The only way to eventually free ourselves from debilitating pain, therefore, is to be with it as it is. The only way out is through.”
However you are feeling – frustrated, angry, happy, grateful, overwhelmed, out of control depressed, scared… know that it’s perfectly okay. You’re human. This is a time to feel your feelings, experience all your emotions and offer yourself compassion by giving yourself what you need.