Fear is such a crazy emotion. It has been taught to us in a negative way all our lives. When we were young, we were told, “Don’t be afraid!” Then we got a bit older and were told, “Stop being afraid of everything!” Then as an adult we were often told, “Don’t let fear control you!” But I’m about to ask you to think of fear in a different way…
As active adults, many of us have found ourselves in more “new” situations that challenge our intellect and emotions. Some examples of these might be our first ocean open water swim, first high speed descent on a bike, first long run in inclement weather, first night-time trail run, etc. It’s when we find ourselves in these unknown or highly stimulating and sometimes dangerous scenarios that “fear” seems to overwhelm us. But I submit that this emotion is actually our intelligence trying to bust through and get our attention. For sure, as fear creeps in, we may have a physical reaction in the form of cold hands, deeper and more rapid breathing, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, dry mouth, and trembling or tightening of the muscles, especially in the arms and legs.
But what I notice for myself in addition to any or all of those indicators is that I am smartest and most aware at the time I’m most fearful. So while feeling fear rapidly rising, I don’t try and convince myself not to be afraid, but rather I recognize that my mind and body are ready to make really good and quick decisions - maybe even decisions that will prevent me from injury or worse. It’s when I’m mountain biking screaming down a mountain that my fear, or rather intelligence, bursts through and causes me to slow down or make a move that ultimately keeps me safe. It’s when I see lightning in the distance and decide to head to shore now rather than later. Or it’s when I decide to turn around and backtrack on a trail when I’m no longer exactly sure where I am. Do I get afraid? You bet. But I recognize it as a good thing and let my emotion and intellect work rapidly to make a decision on a course of action that will hopefully protect me and keep me alive to train again.
So if fear seems to rapidly take over your emotions, recognize that your intelligence is trying to take over and keep you safe. Understand this and you’ll avoid panicking, freezing or becoming completely stressed.