top of page
  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Facing fears in adulthood

As children we are often given the opportunity - or required - to try new things, to face our fears, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, to gain a sense of achievement.  Yet as adults, we usually have the power to say no.  To sit back on the sidelines if we are feeling frightened.  To stay stuck in our existing patterns of behaviour and relationships.  This might feel comforting, but it can also represent a missed opportunity to learn and grow, and to build new neural pathways that can help us to think differently.  I spoke to Stylist about this topic, for an article by a journalist who decided to face her fear of swimming. Click here to read the full article, and read on to hear what I had to say.

Exploring our 'window of tolerance'. We all have a ‘window of tolerance’, a zone within which we are able to stay calm and grounded, without becoming anxious or stressed.  The idea of facing our fears might push ourselves outside of our ‘window of tolerance’ into a state of arousal that feels uncomfortable.  But that’s exactly why it can be helpful.  When we try activities that push us out of our ‘window of tolerance’ it gives us a chance to learn how to actively calm and soothe ourselves, and to learn how to feel more comfortable with the things that scare us.  

Staying youthful.  Trying new things won’t necessarily turn back to the clock.  But as we grow older, it can be tempting to view ourselves as ’too old’ for certain activities, and to hold back from facing fears in adulthood.  To draw a line and decide that there’s something that we are never going to do.  When we confront this notion and try something that scares us, we send ourself a signal that we are resilient and strong, and that we are not ’too old’.  

Milestone events. Milestone events, like 'big' birthdays, can trigger a sense of reflection.  Looking back on what we have achieved and noticing whether we are at a place that we expected to be, at this specific age.  It can bring a whole mixture of feelings, including joy, sadness, excitement and frustration.  It can add a sense of urgency, and spur us on to create a goal that we really want to achieve by a certain age.  This can be a powerful and helpful motivational tool.  

So why is it hard, as adults, to push out of our comfort zone, and consider facing our fears?

Easier to make excuses.  As we grow older, it can become easy to write off a certain activity based on a long-held fear.  To hold up our hands and explicitly say that now that we are are adults, we can simply choose to avoid the activities that scare us.  Or if we don’t feel comfortable to voice it out loud, we can simply manage our life and plans so that the opportunities don’t arise.  Scared of flying?  Suggest a road trip.  Frightened of rollercoasters?  Offer to look after the bags while everyone else is riding.  Worried about swimming?  Tell everyone that you don’t want to get your hair wet.  

Layers of fear.  The thing about fear is that it’s rarely just based on one thing.  It’s often a layer of different feelings and experiences.  We might be frightened of embarrassment, of failure, of injury, of feeling out of control, of triggering past memories.  And this might be based on a whole range of experiences throughout our life that have compounded our sense of fear.  This means that making a choice to push ourselves out of our comfort zone can feel like we are wading through layers of sticky treacle.  If we make a choice based on fear, then we often offer ourselves excuses or arbitrary reasons to support our decision.  In some ways this is a natural instinct, a defence mechanism to protect ourself from potential judgement or shame, if perhaps we are embarrassed about a decision that we have made.  

Self-sabotage.  When we get stuck in patterns of negative thinking or catastrophising, it can impede us or paralyse us.  But all we are doing is getting in our own way.  

Keen to explore more? In counselling we can take a deeper look at how you feel about yourself. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a 30-minute introductory call.

Facing fears in adulthood

10 views0 comments


bottom of page