Leading with Fear
There’s much to fear in our lives these days, a raging virus, unfettered climate change, gun violence, and insurrection to name a few. I often find myself wondering how much of my anxiety is culturally based. I’ve watched our culture build entire industries around fear, commoditizing it for financial gain. I rarely go a day without seeing an ad for identity theft protection, home security systems or life insurance. I can feel the fear behind these ads seep into my body and mix with my own anxiety forming a potent cocktail of fear that begins to take charge of my life. When my anxiety takes charge of my actions, thoughts and words, I know I’m moving toward leading my life with fear. I know I’m fully leading with fear when the choices I make are made solely to abate my anxiety. When this occurs, I’ll do anything to stop the tornado of anxiety that consumes my body. The choices I make in this state are devoid of rational thought, but I can’t see that in the moment because fear and anxiety are in the driver’s seat of my life.
I begin each day by asking the Universe to help me lead my life with love instead of fear. Most days it feels like a big ask given the state of chaos we live in. Prior to my breakdown I predominantly led my life with fear, which meant I wasn’t really living. Leading with fear means living life in protective mode; it’s a half-hearted life. It means seeing every person you meet as a threat and every decision as life dependent. It’s often paralyzing. Leading with fear makes a life much smaller than it should be. I am aware of my own pull toward fear these days, and it often feels like the outside world is stoking this fear. When I find myself pulled toward the fear peddling I see in the media, I have to take a step back and retreat into a smaller life. When I make my life smaller by focusing on my family, friends and work and shutting the outside world out, I can see and feel the fear tornado swirling outside my door. I see the tornado picking people up along its way, swirling them into the eye of the fear storm, often without them even knowing they’re caught up in it.
It’s difficult to watch other people lead with fear. I see it in the choices that people make, but most often I see it more clearly in the choices people don’t make, the ones that would better their lives simpler, happier and healthier. I believe the key to leading with love instead of fear is awareness. When you have awareness of your tendency to lead with fear, you can feel it begin to seep into your consciousness as more feared based thoughts take up space in your head. Gaining awareness is challenging when anxiety is coursing through your body. Taking a break from the chaos of the world, stepping back from social media, news and returning to the stillness and quietness that life offers is the only way I’ve found to step back from leading with fear.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past four years trying to perfect the dance between being an engaged citizen and a present, conscious, loving human being. Often it seemed the two were completely incompatible, that I could never be both at the same time. I went through long periods of hibernation, shutting myself off to the outside world in an effort to keep hold of my own sanity when I had engaged with the world in a way that stoked my anxiety. More times than I can count, my anxiety peaked simply by paying attention to what was happening in the world. Often I felt myself step toward the precipice of another breakdown. Even though I know I have the strength to survive another one, my body didn’t seem to know that and it would immediately shut down and try to protect itself. It was a terrifying experience each time it happened. Life became exhausting trying to manage my anxiety and getting back to a place of peace or something near it.
I’m trying to move toward leading with love once again by making my world smaller and not engaging with the craziness that seems to play on repeat in the outside world. I still haven’t mastered the dance between being an engaged citizen and leading with love, but I’m hoping all of the lessons I’ve learned through leading with fear will teach me a different way of being in the world and in my body at the same time.