Fear and Anxiety, Part 1: Life With and Without It

When I heard extreme skier and fear expert Kristen Ulmer talk about how to deal with fear at a leadership summit, it felt serendipitous. I’ve been struggling with changing things up.


Actually, I’m not afraid to do new things. I love it.


I fear giving up security of the what is tried and true if I stop doing safe things to make time for other (unproven) things.


This got me thinking about what we do out of fear and how our lives would be different without it.


Fear drives a great deal in my life. Saving for retirement. Exercising and eating right (yes, I know some people enjoy it). Saying yes when I think no.


If you knew everything was taken care of, what would you do differently? If you knew you’d always have plenty of money, people who love you, time and physical health to do everything you want.


Would you, stop working? Work less? Sleep more? Write a book? Take more vacations? End a relationship? Stop wearing makeup?


If you truly believed everything would be taken care of.


I would: Go all in on my business. Walk in the woods every morning. Shop the best produce at farmers’ markets weekly. Spend one-on-one time with my children, husband and mother every week. Go out with friends. Scrap 90% of my closet and buy a new wardrobe (including that Chanel bag I’ve had my eye on). Get my hair colored professionally. Share my opinions more. Steer my kids less. Go to bed earlier and nap regularly. Get a masters in positive psychology from the University of PA. Hire a chef from Kripalu to make dinners 4 nights each week. Travel the world with my husband.


Listing these feels liberating. Not on the list: buying a bigger house/new car or getting “facework.”


Why don’t we do the things we dream of?



Fear of getting old (as if that were avoidable). Fear of abandonment. Fear of losing our health. Fear if we turn down this client, or don’t stay late for that client, what? We’ll have fewer cases/clients/projects? We’ll earn $X instead $X plus 20 percent?


We think we have to do so many things that we don’t. There’s nothing we absolutely must do. We don’t have to get out of bed, go to work, or feed our kids. We do these because we want to or feel we should.


More important than what we do out of fear is what we don’t do out of fear.


Are you not doing what you always wanted to do?


Consider what you’ve thought about doing for a decade or more. If you specified exactly what you’re afraid of, is it failure? Rejection? Abandonment? Being judged or criticized?  


I struggle daily with fear of rejection, ridicule, failure and lost opportunity. I fear not having enough, though I have plenty.


I fear in an attempt to try to parent my kids well, they’ll grow up to hate me and not want a relationship with me. I fear my husband will change his mind and decide he wants something different than what we have.


I fear being criticized by my peers and losing the reputation I’ve spent decades building.


With these fears, I’ve held back. Been cautious. Accepted work I don’t enjoy (though I’m getting better at this). I haven’t loved with abandon. I haven’t gone for it.


Kristen Ulmer says conventional wisdom about fear is all wrong. That it’s not about getting over or doing things in spite of fear.


For example, some people meditate daily to get their anxiety and fear under control, to ease their mind. And it works. But meditating with an agenda only works temporarily. When people stop meditating they notice fear and anxiety increases—so they return to meditating to keep it at bay.


But when you have a fear practice and become intimate with fear, you don’t need to meditate at all. Instead of trying to manage fear, make friends with it. In order to feel free, you must look at the things you want to avoid. You find a way to love your shadow.


Whoa. What? Her explanation hit me not like a lightbulb moment, but like a lightning bolt moment.


Sure I’m more relaxed when I meditate. I know meditating has benefits from changing your brain to lowering cholesterol. I do it, but don’t always want to. Netflix is much more appealing.


When Kristen said a daily 2-minute fear practice avoids the need to meditate, I was in to try it.


My next post includes her method.

—Julie Ernst, CCJD

P.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.

Julie Ernst