Throughout our lives we will face numerous occasions when we need to confront danger or pain and are called upon to be brave; to feel afraid and not let our fear defeat us. Fear is a survival response and is immensely helpful in risk assessing any given situation and when necessary; preventing us from entering dangerous, traumatic and potentially life threatening conditions.
However, our fear can also be a little overprotective at times and may occasionally block us from opportunities for growth, success, happiness, health and even safety; and this is when bravery is the perfect counterpart to fear. So how might we harness and cultivate our own bravery and inspire courage in those around us?
Here we will outline some ways in which we might begin to find and use bravery to move beyond our fears, expanding our opportunities and helping us to grow in confidence and lead more fulfilling lives.
Of course, facing our fears it no easy task as our mind and body trigger our survival fight-flight-freeze response and all the associated somatic and cognitive symptoms which can feel overwhelming. Therefore, when facing our fears it can be helpful to plan ways to regulate your emotions so that if they surface they do not engulf you. To do this we can use both “top down” and “bottom up” regulation. Top down regulation uses our rational higher brains, responsible for reasoning, imagination and problem solving to adjust our perspective of the situation.
So to regulate using your higher brain, check your thinking; what are the facts here, is the reward worth the fear or pain, what can you gain from this, have you overcome this before and what are the real risks here? Top down regulation also involves how you speak to yourself, so use positive affirmations or statements that are open to possibility. For example, instead of “I can’t do this” try to change to statements like “I can do this”. Or if this really feels too mismatched with how you are feeling, maybe try “I wonder if I can do this.”
“Being brave is not easy; it can’t be because if it were easy then we wouldn’t need to be brave”
Bottom up regulation involves soothing our lower limbic system, responsible for fear and other emotions, by using a more sensory, experiential approach. For this consider how you would sooth a baby and then update it to suit you. Here you can experiment with using your five senses; taste, touch, sight, sound and smell to find ways to soothe your limbic system, as well as using rhythm, human contact and relaxed breathing to calm your emotions.
Humans are essentially pack animals and often our sense of safety and survival depends on the strength of our connections. If we feel secure within our networks and supported by those around us we then have a secure base from which to take risks. If we trust that if things do not go to plan, that we will not be alone and will have the care and support of those around us, then facing our fears can feel much more surmountable. Consider who you have in your support network and who could be by your side when you face your fears.
The more frequently we do something that we are afraid of, the more normal the activity feels and as such our associated feelings of fear and trepidation begin to subside. Whatever you are afraid of, find ways to gradually expose yourself to that fear, setting regular achievable challenges. Don’t throw yourself in at the deep end as this may traumatise you and prevent you ever facing your fears. Take considered and gradual steps towards that which you fear the most. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, maybe talk to a small group of people for 3 minutes first and then over time increase your audience and the length of the presentation.
Each time we pursue our goals, despite our fear, there is tremendous value in acknowledging our achievements. A visual or memorable record of times of triumph and bravery can remind you, when you need it, of what you are capable of and when you have been brave before. Every time we reward ourselves we also feel pleasure and pride, and with this our confidence and sense of trust in ourselves begins to grow. Fear does not thrive alongside confidence and trust and so with each record of accomplishment, we begin to let go of our fears. Consider keeping a written log and tick off each success; add a new piece to a puzzle, a marble to a jar, a pound to the pot, another building block to a construction. Find a way that works for you to track your triumphs.
Being brave is not easy; it can’t be because if it were easy then we wouldn’t need to be brave. To be brave means to feel vulnerable and to expose ourselves to the experiences that we find difficult, either deliberately or as they naturally arise. Being brave isn’t a personality trait, it is something that all of us have within us and no matter what you are facing, every time you confront your fears and don’t run from them, you are brave.
CXK’s Emotional Wellbeing Service is a paid for service available to schools and colleges across the south-east. As part of the service, we provide person-centred counselling and brief solution-focused interventions which build emotional resilience and coping skills in children and young people.