Dealing with Fear and Anxiety

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
Tags: anxiety | fear | stress
Entrepreneurs use the right kind of fear to actually propel their imaginations to consider different possible futures. This, subsequently, helps them choose the next step forward and to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

I often have clients chat to me about their fears and anxieties which always propels me to research this emotion. In looking through my notes over the years, I found reference to an amazing TEDTalk by Novelist Karen Thompson Walker, called “What Fear Can Teach Us”. She talks about the story of the whale ship Essex, which was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean in 1820s. Herman Melville used parts of this story in his research for Moby Dick.

In brief, it is the story of the choices that 20 Sailors were forced to make when they found themselves in 3 small whale boats with limited supplies of food, water and navigation equipment, watching their ship sink. They were about 10 000 miles from home with no way of communicating with anyone else. After 24 hours the sailors had to decide what to do. They were 1200 miles from the Marquises Islands, which they believed were populated by cannibals. Their other option was Hawaii but their Captain was concerned about the storms that they may encounter en route there. The third option was the longest and most difficult as they had to sail for miles with the hope that certain band of winds would push them to the coast of America.

Thompson then talks about how our fears are like stories and how fear propels the imagination. She says fears are like story-telling and have a plot, imagery, suspense, and focus. As humans we have the unique ability to think about the future and to consider what will happen next.

In looking at the fears that faced these sailors, they had 3 choices and fears to weigh out …

1. to be eaten by cannibals,
2. to be battered by storms,
3. or to starve to death before reaching land.

These men allowed their fear of cannibals to drive their decision and opted to risk starving to death, which they knew was almost a certainty based on the distance that they needed to cover and yet the fear of cannibals outweighed that. Sadly, by the time they were rescued 2 months later, they had run out of food and supplies, and some of the few that survived had resorted to their own form of cannibalism. Less than half the men survived!

What makes us give more importance to some fears than others?

If we think about fear as a story we tell ourselves, there are 2 parts to it. The artistic side to fear is when we dream up horrifying scenarios based on our imagination. It reminds me of when I was a child, terrified of the dark and seeing shadows, which I believed to be monsters, in my room. I conjured up the most vivid stories in my head – just like the sailors did about the cannibals.

The other part is the scientific aspect to our fears and stories, where we read our fears with what Walker refers to as a ‘coolness of judgment’. Had the sailors done this and weighed out the high probability of starvation in taking the longer route, versus their imagined or artistic fears of cannibals, they would have landed on the island of Tahiti!

What decisions are we making relating to our fears and which aspect are we giving more weight to, the artistic or scientific?

Self Reflection

Do you use your scientific analysis or coolness of judgment in making decisions when experiencing fear?
Or do you allow your artistic imagination to drive your decision making?

Entrepreneurs use the right kind of fear to actually propel their imaginations to consider different possible futures. This, subsequently, helps them choose the next step forward and to prepare for the worst-case scenario. When we let our fears run away from us, we are at risk of making a decision based only on the artistic part of our story or fear and not the scientific part, and will then only engage the emotional side of the brain and not bring rational or logical perspectives into our decision.

“An imagination that is out of control may lead to fears or anxiety.”

As per our definition of Emotional Intelligence, we are at our wisest and most powerful when the rational (the head) and the emotional (the heart) work together.

How well-balanced are your head and heart?

As Thompson says, ‘our fears are a gift of imagination and can give us wisdom and truth if read correctly’.

How well are you reading your fears?