How often have you heard that “magic happens outside the comfort zone”? Well, maybe not that exact line, per se, but there seems to be various reiterations of that sentiment. They say to not let fear stand in our way. To rise above. To not let fear of falling bring us down (I think that was actually a song lyric from my college graduation montage.)
In any case, the self-help psychology market often urges us to transcend our fears and to conquer what’s in front of us.
For the most part, that’s not bad advice. (And I’ve read plenty of personal development blogs over the years, too.) If we have certain desires, and fears and anxieties interfere, then logically speaking, we absolutely can work to resolve these emotional issues.
However, it’s not always black-and-white.
Sometimes, there’s a line. A line between overcoming what we are afraid of and abstaining from what generates fear. That line is what brings me to writing this very blog post.
I tend to think that, at times, fear can be our body’s way of communicating a problem and it’s only natural for us to listen to our body and avoid said problem. Fear can easily be an emotional message that tells us to stay away from red-flagged situations, from situations outside our comfort zone that are not conducive to our emotional well-being, let alone feel “magical.”
And that’s okay.
I don’t think we lose points for not daring ourselves to be uncomfortable. Sometimes, being comfortable trumps the alternative, and it’s at these junctures that I want to listen to my body’s form of communication. It’s during these moments that I want to follow the instinct that says, “Hey Lauren, I know it’s cool that you’re leaving your comfort zone and trying something new and challenging yourself, but maybe you’re taking it too far here. Maybe it’s not really worth the fear and anxiety that you’re feeling due to the discomfort.”
In such circumstances, fear can be our friend. Fear is a warning signal that is instructing us to tread carefully, to avoid something that might be emotionally problematic. Fear is trying to help us navigate situations that can be overwhelming — and for good reason. Fear is not always a feeling that needs to be thwarted and transcended.
I’ve come across writing by Lissa Rankin, M.D., a NY Times bestselling author, wellness agent, and physician who talks about the beneficial aspects of fear.
She discusses how fear is certainly essential to our survival. Just how our ancestors needed to flee in dangerous situations, we too listen to fear when we come face-to-face with a deadly dilemma. Rankin labels this, “true fear.”
When true fear manifests, we don’t even contemplate how to take action, we just instinctively listen to the fear and make sure we are out of harm’s way. That being said, we don’t exactly find ourselves being chased by wild animals often, nor are we on the edge of a literal cliff frequently (At least I’d hope not.)
“True fear can also be subtle,” Rankin says. “True fear may show up as an intuitive knowing that says, ‘I’m not letting my child spend the night at that person’s house.’ It can show up as a dream, an inner voice, or a gut feeling that something bad is about to happen.”
In scenarios that do not reflect true fear, Rankin explains that this brand of fear, while not rooted in immediate danger, can still alert us to problems that we may want to pay attention to; in this kind of situation, fear can become our teacher.
This is what I hope this blog post can convey. Fear that arises in our lives is not always meant to be overcome. It’s not always the enemy, meant to be stopped in its tracks. It’s not alway meant to be associated with the self-help psychology that dares us to challenge ourselves. (Rise above!)
On the contrary, fear can teach us how to move forward and how to rein in distress. Fear can be an inner voice, an inner voice that is hoping to communicate an important message when the comfort zone line becomes rather blurry.
Fear can be an inner voice that can ultimately help us.