I learned in my counseling master’s program that people have different responses to fear and anxiety. We are all probably familiar with “fight or flight,” but what happens when you can’t do either? What do you do when “fear” paralyzes you?
Freezing is a big problem because it is the worst possible response in many ways. At least when you fight, you have a chance to win the battle. When you flee, you remove yourself from the situation or object of terror.
But when you freeze,
- You stay in the circumstance longer.
- You are taking no action; improving things is a distant wish.
- Others may see your inaction as a lack of care or concern.
- The situation may need immediate action, and delay may enhance the disaster.
When Fear Incapacitates You
Most people do not choose to freeze. It just happens. How do you know that fear incapacitates you? If you are self-aware, an essential quality for us all, you will at least know that you are anxious and afraid. When you feel the anxiety crawling up your neck, like a growing forest fire engulfing everything in its path, ask yourself:
- Am I jumping in fist first, ready to tackle the situation, fear or not? Am I in action mode?
- Was I avoiding the situation, physically and emotionally removing myself? Am I compartmentalizing or blocking it out?
- Am I stuck? Am I doing nothing in the circumstance, hiding my head in the sand and hoping it will just go away on its own? It being the scary issue.
Once we learn that this is, in fact, how we respond to stress, the do-nothing approach, then we can begin to address it. Remember, we first must admit to having a problem to fixing it.
What to do When Fear Paralyzes You
Who do you trust that will give you an objective view of the situation? Remember, objective. We don’t need someone who tells us what we want to hear, especially if we need to resolve a problem. Help comes in many forms:
- A boss
- A business coach
- Books and videos
- A friend or family member
When an issue paralyzes you with fear, it isn’t a weakness to seek help. We need the truth and the encouragement to do something.
Solve the Problem, Not Just the Symptom
Many times, we want to put a patch on a problem like we would our old jeans. After all, they are our favorite jeans. They are the most comfortable. Do we do the same with issues in life and business? Do we want to stay in our comfort zone?
Unfortunately, if we don’t figure out the real issue, the chances of the negative situation or problem reoccurring are high. It takes courage to face the core issue. We can’t hide our heads in the sand and even understand the core issue simultaneously. So, seeking the real problem pushes us to do something. It is the beginning step to solving any problem and understanding it.
Remember that our inaction can look like we don’t care. Or possibly worse, that we just aren’t competent to move forward. Inaction can be a big red flag to our team. Suppose you are a leader who is paralyzed with fear. In that case, the followers may look for another shepherd to follow in another company. If you are just part of the team, others will pressure leadership to get someone who will keep moving forward regardless of the obstacles.
We need to communicate our process of seeking the underlying cause or real problem and then keep our team updated on plans and actions to resolve the situation or ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Our communication needs to be honest and authentic. We should always have confidence when we communicate, though, too. These are not mutually exclusive. We need to tell the truth, but it is much easier to have confidence in the message and the future when we have a plan and solution. As leaders, we have to balance this to give our team confidence.
None of the planning or communicating means anything if we still don’t take action. Once the fireworks calm down, it is easy to stay in our comfort zone and pray that nothing else happens. Doing nothing will backfire.
No action will:
- Cause your team to feel like you were just not being honest.
- Reignite others’ fear if the issue impacts the organization.
- Not alleviate your stress and fear as you are always looking over your shoulder.
- Leave you with the risk of something similar happening again.
Action will do the opposite. It will give you the confidence to let down your guard and no longer worry. It will bring more cohesiveness to the team. And hopefully, it will solve the problem, at least for the future.
Fear is a Feeling
Remember, fear is just a feeling, and we can learn to control our responses to it. Before long, you will find that you have a new response to the fear that threatens to cripple you. You don’t have to fight or run. You don’t have to stay stuck.
By seeking help, identifying the root cause of the problem, communicating effectively, and taking action, we can break free from the grip of fear and forge our own path forward.