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Fear Holding You Back? Manage it by Creating a Personal Fear Scale

Fear is universal. We all experience it. It helps keep us safe. But fear can stop us from fulfilling our dreams.  To live a Big Life we must learn to manage our fear.

Photo Credit: LWPrencipe 

Fear of Flying

As a medevac helicopter pilot, I frequently hear the crew (a nurse and a paramedic) ask our patient, “How would you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten?” Depending on the patient’s condition, they adjust the pain medication in an attempt to get the pain to zero by the time we arrive at the hospital.

An elevated heart rate is one non-verbal indicator of pain. Sometimes our patient will rate their pain as zero but still have an elevated heart rate. Although there are other causes, usually the rapid heart rate is because the patient is scared. Many times a medevac flight is the first helicopter flight the patient has ever taken. Combine this with the anxiety they feel about their condition, and nearly every patient feels some level of fear.

What feels like a mild bump of turbulence for a seasoned flight crew, can feel like the aircraft is going to tumble out of the sky to the patient. We do our best to put the patient at ease: calm voices, explaining what is happening, gentle turns and descents.

Photo Credit: Bravo213

My Fear is Not Your Fear

Despite our best efforts, our patients will feel fear. But their fear is not my fear.  I love to fly and only have a reasonable level of concern about experiencing an inflight emergency.

My biggest fears are rejection, abandonment and death. I’m not alone. I’m also afraid of jumping off rocky outcroppings into water. I’m not scared of heights and I like to swim but the two together makes my skin crawl.

When we are able to take something as “out there” and nebulous as fear and quantify it, we can better understand how it effects us. Here is my personal fear scale:

Create Your Personal Fear Scale

Create your own fear scale. You can download the editable file here. Maybe you aren’t nearly so afraid of cliff diving. Maybe open spaces are terrifying.

Manage Your Fear

Use your fear scale as a place to start a discussion about fear with friends, family and even coworkers. Our personal fear scales are different and understanding when a person is experiencing a high level of fear can help you be more empathetic. It can also help you understand why they may be operating from their “lizard brain” and why logic or reason isn’t helping soothe their fear.

When I tell my boyfriend a certain activity is a seven or an eight, it helps him understand and be supportive. We can also celebrate the success of navigating the fear. Without the scale, it might have seemed like “no big deal.”

It can also help quiet the harsh part of our minds. The voice that tells me to “buck up buttercup, and get over it” isn’t very helpful at the higher end of the scale. At these levels, gentleness and kindness work better than my internal “drill sergeant.”

Your personal fear scale can also help you understand when you are more likely to be entering the “vulnerability red zone.” Quantifying your fear can help you manage it. Once we are able to manage our fear and vulnerability we are able to live Big Lives.

What insight did you have from creating your own fear scale? How did it go discussing it with family and friends? Share in the comments.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Darlene Cary December 12, 2012, 8:53 am

    I can see how quantifying something “big” like fear or pain can help bring it into perspective and maybe not so all-encompassing.
    Thanks for a great post!

    • Lorena December 13, 2012, 8:53 pm

      Thanks Darlene-
      I’ve been enjoying using my fear scale and thinking about ways to tweak it as new things come up for me.

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