Ever heard the phrase ‘feel the fear and do it anyway?’

Brave people aren’t stronger or better than the rest of us, they are just the ones who don’t let fear stop them doing things. So how can we embrace our fear and use it to propel us forwards instead of stopping us in our tracks? By understanding this surprising truth; our bodies react in similar ways to two very contrasting emotions. The physiology of fear is remarkably similar to that of excitement.

Think back to a time when you were really nervous about doing something. Perhaps your heart started to beat faster, your mouth went dry, you felt hotter or got butterflies in your tummy. Now think of when you were last really excited about something – it’s a very similar feeling right?

The key here is that it is how we interpret our feelings that determines how we respond. When you’re nervous about something it’s likely that you’ll be tentative, reluctant, closed off and feel negative. Whereas if you are excited about something instead, you’ll respond in a really different way; perhaps you’ll be more open, curious, energized and positive. Attitude, it turns out, really does have a big impact on our ability to face our fears.

The next time you are fearful about something, see if you can replace the fear words like ‘nervous’ and ‘scared’, with their positive cousins – like ‘excited’ or ‘looking forward’. The more you repeat this pattern of thinking, the stronger it becomes. It’s forming a new neural pathway in our brain which gets stronger with use.

Once you’ve started to re-set the thinking patterns in your mind, the next thing is to focus on how you can stay coherent in the present moment, even when your heart is pounding. The key to that is regular, steady breathing. When we are breathing deeply into our abdomen – to an even count (say each inhale and exhale to the count of five) we are telling our nervous system that we are not in danger. This sends a message to the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ part of our brain called the amygdala, that is triggered when it perceives danger to say “it’s ok, we’ve got this”. When we can control this re-active part of our systems, it means that we can start to harness our adrenalin and the physiology of excitement instead of getting tripped up by it.

So the next time you feel a nervous about something, imagine that you are exited, practice good breathing and embrace the challenge. Harnessing your energy will help you to stay in the present moment and find flow. Then notice how good you feel afterwards so that you can remember that for next time. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Courage is contagious!

First published in the Metro.

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