Updated: Feb 9
Shelley Restall, is a Registered Social Worker in private practice located in Kitchener, currently providing primarily virtual counselling services, and some limited in-person sessions.
She offers this wisdom on facing fears.
Fear is a core emotion that we all experience at some point in our lives. Fear is often described as anxiety, nervousness, stress, and even worry. Fear can grab a strong hold on you whether you recognize where it started or why it's here in your life. Oftentimes we cope with fear by avoiding what triggers it. Avoidance may relieve the intensity of fear in a single moment. Yet the true antidote for overcoming anxiety is to develop the courage to face our fears.
Facing our fears, may sound really scary, or overwhelming. Fears actually hold us back and create ongoing suffering. By taking small manageable steps towards change, the process builds your courage to confront your fears. As you reach each point of success, your confidence grows stronger. Your successes transform into motivation for you to keep taking back the power over living the life you desire. Learning to unhook your thoughts that feed the looping cycle of avoidance, gives you the freedom to live with a sense of peace in your heart, mind, and spirit.
Fear hijacks our nervous system and takes over our breathing patterns. It leads to tension in our bodies, and a surge of cortisol, that pesky stress hormone. By focusing on just our breathing patterns while also moving our bodies in gentle ways, learn to calm and soothe ourselves.
Try this breathing exercise described next. Inhale count to 4, hold count to 7, and exhale count to 8. If you can't count to 7 and then 8, just try to make the hold 4, and the exhale longer than a count of 4. As you inhale, do so through your nose, and as you exhale imagine letting go of the fear. Repeat this cycle 2 more times (if desired) and observe how your body feels differently. Now try to march in place and count to 10. Maybe even move your arms gently from side to side. Take another deep breath. Scan your body to see how you feel. Do you feel more in control of your body and mind? Maybe even your worry sensations in your body have decreased?
Check out: shelleyrestallcounselling.com for more helpful tips on managing anxiety, facing your fears, and activating your inner skills with step by step support!
Facing my Fear
As a child I had a traumatic incident at the dentist. It left me with a fear of the dentist my whole life. I would get ill if I knew I had to go (my parents would just show up at school and take me there so I didn't know ahead of time). When I had children I would try very hard to visit the dentist regularly so that they wouldn't catch on to my fear. But, one day the trauma was re-triggered and the anxiety got too much and I stopped going altogether. I knew that dentist visits were important to my health and that I couldn't avoid them forever and so I decided to look at what I needed to face this fear.
I realized, after discussions with friends, that during the initial event and the one that re-triggered the anxiety there was a lack of compassion towards me. And so, knowing what the trigger was I was able to start a search for a dentist that offered more of what I needed - compassion. Luckily, I was able to find a place that offers care, concern and double checks to make sure I am doing ok. I am in control and can let them know at any point when I need a break. And, with each visit (because now I need to face quite a few to fix the teeth left for so long without care), the fear is less and my confidence is more.
I feel that I am allowed to be uncomfortable but I don't have to be controlled by that emotion. I can acknowledge it, tell myself that it is an hour of time to get through (which is relatively small in the time frame of my day/life) and I am respected enough to be able to be heard if I have a concern.
In the book Courageous Caterpillar the little caterpillar must venture into the woods in order to go through the metamorphosis into a butterfly. The caterpillar is afraid of the dark woods and afraid of the metamorphosis.
Still, knowing that it must be done, she packs a bag of things that could help her succeed and heads into the woods. The group of children I worked with for ideas for this story offered suggestions of what the caterpillar would need. They said that when you plan ahead, create expectations as to what might happen and how you could deal with it, it makes you braver, more confident to go forward.
Visit the Quite a Character bookstore to pick up a copy of Courageous Caterpillar.
Being Bigger Than Your Fear
One of the activities we did with the kids who helped create Courageous Caterpillar is talk about being bigger than your fear. It started with the idea of something in the woods that scared the caterpillar even though she couldn't see what it was. We talked about the idea that most creatures would be afraid of us if we made ourselves look big and loud. At that point we all stood up tall and stomped and roared around the room. It was fun, but I also think something the kids will remember in the future when they may be facing something scary.
Not only can this idea fit with scaring away something in the woods but it is a good analogy for any fear we are looking to confront. Build yourself up, with confidence and courage - and you can be bigger than your fear.
"She felt nervous and a bit scared
She didn’t want something
to catch her unaware
So she made herself big with arms up high
And she made a loud noise
like a screeching cry
Whatever it was now scurried away
To fight a monster,
be a monster is all I can say"
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another."
— William James