We face fear every day in our work, in our relationships, in our finances, and in our health. How we meet that fear determines how we get to live the life of our dreams. When we make a change or start living outside the box, fear is present. We can become uncertain, trepidatious, and even downright stuck. But what if fear isn’t the monster we’ve made it out to be? We may not even need to fear, fear itself.

What role has fear played in your life up until now? On today’s interview on the Living the Dream Virtual Summit, we met with fear specialist, Kristen Ulmer. She started out as a mogul specialist on the US ski team, earning her the title of best female big mountain extreme skier in the world! She next took on other extreme sports, and a study of Zen mastery to enhance performance and to get in the “flow state.” She helps people with PTSD, depression, and anxiety express how they’re avoiding their fears, and supports them in living the life of their dreams — a life beyond fear.

IN WHAT WAYS DOES THE WAY WE VIEW FEAR HOLD US BACK?

We want to conquer it, or “overcome” it. We try to understand it or accept it. What that does instead, is it works temporarily, but pushes the emotion down and can turn into panic attacks, or anxiety disorders. It’s a disempowering idea to repress fear. It’s not the long game to power through, as it can drain us and can affect our performance. Conquering fear makes fear the enemy, and we try to think our way out of it. Emotions are what make us vulnerable, and our minds can’t bring us out of them. We get stuck in our head, rather than in our bodies. We’ll get burnt out from trying to battle our emotions.

HOW DID KRISTEN REACT TO BEING RECOGNIZED AS FEARLESS?

She was a top athlete in one of the most dangerous sports in the world for 12 years. Known as fearless by sports interviewers, she believed the hype, not even knowing she had fear about her skiing. She learned that her fear of not being loved, was what motivated her, and it became an addiction, expressed through her daredevil sports tricks. Underneath all of that adrenaline was fear. She was so bold and daring that she pushed her fear deep inside and exhausted her adrenals. Our relationship with fear is so complicated, and yet also so simple. Our reaction to fear creates the difficulty.

HOW DID KRISTEN MAKE A TRANSITION TO BEING A FEAR SPECIALIST?

After about ten years, the rationalizing, the fighting, and the ignoring can start to take their toll. Kristen noticed that a lot of athletes start to have injuries around this point in their career. Her repressed fears began to manifest as PTSD, from seeing near-death experiences in the mountains, and she shoved her emotions down. She felt so burnt out that she even hated skiing and had adrenal fatigue and low cortisol levels. Though she was mainly a spokesperson at this point, she quit her career and started working with a Zen master to find her fear. All of her problems stemmed from the lie she was telling herself about her worries. Kristen used her experience to help others, working as a mindset sports coach, and wrote her book, The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead.

WHAT EXACTLY IS FEAR?

Fear is merely a sensation of discomfort that we feel in our bodies. The amygdala in the brain creates it, and it can show up as nerves, anxiety, stress, and even anger. Anxiety is a sign of repressed fear. 90% of anger is an avoidance of fear. When our relationship to fear is a healthy one, it can show up as excitement and anticipation. Fear shows up as negative to most people, since human beings tend to avoid what is uncomfortable. Sayings such as “choose love over fear,” are the wrong way of thinking about this, because we are suppressing the fear, rather than embracing it. That judgment deems fear as “wrong,” or as something to be avoided. Fear by itself is not negative, but our reaction to it often is.

HOW CAN WE BEGIN TO LOOK AT FEAR DIFFERENTLY?

In Kristen’s book, she posits an equation: “Suffering equals discomfort times resistance.” Our discomfort is natural, and our feelings are just a part of being human. The resistance to those uncomfortable feelings is learned behavior. You’ll experience anger, stress, sadness, but your judgment of those emotions stands in the way. Fear is not something to be shamed or avoided. It’s much deeper than just accepting fear, however. First off, we can decide only to suppress it. Second, we can allow it and know that fear passes in anywhere from 10 to 90 seconds if we can get in the flow of it. Third, we can feel our fear, rather than overthinking how to deal with our fear. Last, we can become intimate with our fear and engage with it as a part of us, rather than being separate from it. If you think of fear as a friend or roommate, you can face the fear and listen to it and validate it.

HOW CAN WE KNOW WHAT FEAR IS SO WE CAN ACKNOWLEDGE IT?

Fear is always with you. It’s healthy and natural. It doesn’t mean we are weak or inadequate. When you become aware of your relationship to fear, you can accept it. If you take the time to notice how you resist the fear, it becomes clear what action you can take next. The most important thing we can do is to learn how to feel our fear. We try to go about it backward, by trying to using our mind to control our body, when we can let our feelings help us to come alive instead.

When we turn toward our fear and anxiety, we can begin to heal burnout. We can embrace who we are, and nurture all of the parts of ourselves, without judgment. The way to end the war on fear is to stand on the mountaintop, to feel the fear, to make friends with it, and to make the leap.

Written by Bridget Baker
Photo Credit: asoggetti, Unsplash.com