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You’ve probably heard of the various ways we face fears: 1) we can fight them, and assertively/aggressively stand up for ourselves, 2) we can run from them, protecting ourselves in the moment in order to face them another day, or 3) we can freeze up and do nothing and hope it will be over soon.
I discovered I have all three traits.
When I was working in the school district, I had to attend ALICE training. ALICE, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a new way of approaching lockdown drills and other emergency scenarios. It stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evade/Evacuate. The steps don’t need to be done in that order, and in some cases, not all the steps may be taken anyway. But it’s a more assertive method of defense than the passive style schools used to use. I think it’s a great system – but when I participated in the simulated attacks, I found I naturally froze up. I literally would hide and cower. I couldn’t have even run away.
I wish I could say that was my only time of freezing up, but it’s not. I’ve found it to be true of myself in other emergency situations too. Fortunately I haven’t been in anything catastrophic, but enough to know that if I don’t have a detailed plan of action in place that I have practiced before and can follow step-by-step without having to think about it, I will freeze and do nothing.
Then there’s flight.
I tend to escape mentally. If I’m stressed, I find I retreat into my mind. This is usually done through imaginative storying, but if I’m really stressed out, I can’t even do that much. But I may switch to something like listening to music – and usually the louder and aggressive the better – so that I can absorb in the rhythm and energy and power of the music without having to think further. I also often fantasize about quitting whatever is causing me stress, but I rarely actually take action. That requires a ‘fighting’ mentality.
And that’s my third trait, but it only shows up in my writings and in my stories. My protagonists are all people of action, and often do fight their way out of difficulties. They certainly aren’t cowards and won’t back down from a challenge. They are tenacious, resourceful, and determined. In many ways, they are the exact opposites of who I am.
“So,” you might be wondering, “what does this have to do anything?”
Knowing my weaknesses is halfway to a solution. I know I naturally freeze up under the most stressful of situations. In a less stressful situation, I can deal with it, but I will fantasize about escaping it and fleeing my responsibilities. And in my mind, my characters are bold and courageous, and far more of leaders than I naturally am.
But I can use that to my advantage.
First of all, I can put my story characters in a similar stressful situation and see how they react to things. That can give me a model to follow in real life. If I’m working on my anti-bucket list, and I want to conquer my fear of heights, for example, what if my current protagonist was also afraid of heights? What would they do? It gives me a safe chance to rehearse the situation without failure. And it’s even further one step removed by creating a character to deal with it instead of myself.
Also, I can connect with real-life experts or look up how-to guides that others have already written – I don’t have to reinvent the wheel here – and use these resources to create my own plan of action. By having a step-by-step guide to follow, I can practice it in advance and keep it close by if I need it. In the case of the ALICE training, for example, we all got a yellow card with the steps and other important information listed on it that we kept right with our school badges. Just because I can remember the steps now, doesn’t mean I would remember any of them if I was panicking. But having the steps physically on my person at all times means I’m at least more likely to follow through if I had to, since I wouldn’t be relying on my memory in a high-stress situation. (Growing up, we had a similar system in place for fire/tornado emergencies at our house, with all the important information listed right by the phone in our kitchen. Again, if you’re freaking out, you may find you can’t even remember your own address. Don’t rely on your memory in a high-stakes situation if this is you too!)
And if I have good training, a good plan of action (or multiple plans), and a good support system in place, I know I’m also less likely to make a big deal over something that should be relatively minor. Having the right people around to encourage me and inspire me can go a long way towards helping keep a proper perspective.
So that’s how I deal with stress – and how I plan to deal with stress.
What about you? What are your default responses under stress? Do you naturally fight against your fears? Do you actively avoid them as much as possible? Do you freeze up and wish you didn’t have to deal with them?
No one likes being afraid or being under pressure or stress. But these things happen, so it’s important to know what our responses are likely to be. If we want to change them, now is the time when we aren’t in the heat of the moment under that tension. That’s why I created my anti-bucket list, so that I can think ahead and plan for these fears so I (hopefully) won’t freeze up when I encounter them.
What will you do when you face your fears?
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