Turning on the news is a very often an exercise in addressing fear. In a country where mass shootings are common and rallies incite violence, the world can feel like an overwhelmingly scary place. Fear is a natural human response to stimuli that may pose a threat. But when fear creeps up too often, or in unnecessary situations, it prevents us from pursuing our heart’s desires. It feels debilitating, unwanted, and downright, well, scary.
But through understanding the roots of our fears and finding ways of working with them, we can begin to overcome fear’s tight grip. When we work with fear, it no longer becomes an enemy—it’s simply a voice. Heck, it may even work in our favor.
Maybe it’s as obvious as fearing a certain posture, because you’re afraid you might fall out of it. Maybe it’s something weightier, like a fear of failure. Maybe it’s more hidden and deep-rooted. All of our fears are deeply unique to who we are as individuals, but it’s not defining. When you identify a certain fear, approach it with compassion and a gentle attitude.
Wanderlust teacher Rod Stryker reminds us to “Collect the power. Because our fear has power. And our fear is paralyzing, and our fear sets us off course. So it’s about gathering and collecting that power, waking it up. And dedicating your life to honoring it.” Furthermore, Rod states that fear never goes away, rather it “accompanies us at every step.” Our courage must be bigger than our fear.
Working with fear is a daily practice. The yogic tradition offers us tools to overshadow our fears and develop strength to handle it when it arises. Rather than shutting down and letting fear destabilize you, try offering love and kindness. See how much you can soften. A few tips to combat fear:
Meditation helps us to center and ground ourselves. We make space in our minds, and can then identify more toxic thinking. The practice puts us in direct contact with the tendencies of our own minds. Notice where your mind goes, and resist judging yourself for it. Notice if anger or frustration arises, and let it recede like a wave washing over you.
The next time you encounter fear, try not to run away from it. Sit with it as just a feeling, and let it pass. Identifying fear as nothing more than an emotional response helps us to manage fear and its subsequent stress responses when we encounter it in our daily lives.
Sometimes writing it out can help us face our fears head on. Separate yourself from your fears by putting them down in writing. Know that they do not define you. Identify the difference between natural fight-or-flight responses and general, repetitive stress reactions. A great tool for tapping into the subconscious is free-writing. Give yourself a set period of time to write without worrying about grammar, spelling, or content. See what comes up for you, and offer yourself the freedom to soften a bit.
If you like working with more visual aesthetic, making art in response to fear can also often diminish its magnitude. Get lost in your creations, whether it be a drawing, a sculpture, or a dance. When we create something, we engage our physical bodies and transcend beyond ourselves. Try to just create and resist judgement or ego. Get cozy with the notion of not knowing what exactly you’re doing, and not necessarily needing to know.
Getting on your mat will slow things down and make them seem more manageable. Aligning your movement with your breath can allow us to rise above our ego and tune into something greater. Practicing yoga helps us work with our direct relationship to the natural world, allowing us to trust our basic nature without expectation. Challenge yourself to do something that doesn’t seem possible. Focusing all of your attention can make the limits of what we can achieve slip away, letting doubts dissolve.
Certain essential oils have a calming effect which can decrease feelings of anxiety and fear. Lavender, Clary Sage, Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Vetiver, Rose, and Bergamot have soothing effects. Try adding these to a warm bath, a diffuser, or apply directly to your skin.
Sometimes all we need is to talk it out. Share your feelings with someone you trust. Who knows, maybe they have experience with the same thing. Everyone deals with fear, and speaking about it can make it seem less daunting.
Spend Time With Loved Ones
Connecting with family and friends reminds us that we are not alone. Grab a cup of tea or share a wholesome meal with your loved ones, and allow the mutual nurturing to soften your doubts and anxieties.
Tune in With Your Breath
Pranayama, or breathwork, has immense calming effects. Try nadi shodana, or alternate nostril breathing. Rest your thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger on your left nostril. Your index and middle finger can rest on the third eye or fold into your palm. Gently close off your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left for five seconds. Close off the left nostril and hold, then exhale through the right nostril for five seconds. Inhale through the right and hold, then exhale through the left. Repeat this ten times or more to induce calming effects.
Get Spiritual (Sing it Out)
Chanting, or mantra, is an offering of one’s voice to celebrate the spiritual and natural realms. Engaging our vocal chords induces a deep vibration that can be incredibly soothing and slow down the thought process.
Most importantly, foster love for yourself and for others, and cultivate warmth. Self-talk holds so much power. When fear creeps in, remind yourself that love has the power to overcome those frightening feelings. Savor the warmth you can create, and move forward.
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga.