Is your fear of life robbing you of truly living it? Here’s how to cope with changes and uncertainties.
Confession: I’m a scaredy-cat.
I met up with a good friend recently and we talked about our fears – her fear of falling in love; my fear of, well, everything else. The thought of falling out of love scares me. The thought of a failed business scares me. The thought of getting married scares me. The thought of getting pregnant scares me. The thought of raising kids scares me. The thought of losing my cat scares me. The thought of losing another loved one scares me. The thought of growing wrinkles and white hair scares me. The thought of retiring in Singapore scares me.
And I know I’m not alone. Some of my fears are the product of my own overactive imagination, but most of them are bound to happen to you and me one day. It’s this general fear of the unknown – when the inevitable will happen, if shit ever gets real – that lurks in the dark recesses of our minds. I know full well that if I allow myself to dwell on those fears, it can be crippling. As they say, to live in constant fear is not living at all.
But on the flip side, fear can be a good thing. One thing I’ve learned about life since I was young is that is it fleeting. You could be sharing a laugh with your best friend one day, and mourning for her death the next. You could have a stable job today, and lose it tomorrow. Knowing that nothing in life is certain pushes you to strive harder, to better appreciate what you already have. The tricky part is to not let fear consume you. Where do you draw the line? How do you draw the line?
Living in Uncertainty … with Certainty
I came across an article by Toni Bernhard, J.D., in Psychology Today that provided great insight on coping with personal and global uncertainty, and the point that really stuck with me is about developing “an assumption of safety” each time a fear arises. She quoted a paragraph from Lewis Richmond’s Healing Lazarus:
Of course, any of those things might happen to you or to me or to anyone, but we can’t live our lives in fear of them. We all must develop an assumption of safety that allows us to get through the day.
For Bernhard, who used to constantly worry about her children, she has since wrapped them in an assumption of safety. “It’s been tremendously comforting and freeing for me,” she wrote. “Of course we should take reasonable precautions, but catastrophes are the exception not the rule.”
We can definitely apply it to our own fears as well, especially those born out of paranoia. At worst, they could become self-fulfilling prophecies – one’s fear of failure might result in a failed marriage, for instance. Why worry about a breakup when you’re very much in love right now? Why worry about a loved one getting into an accident when, like Bernhard said, catastrophes aren’t the rule? By wrapping our fears in an assumption of safety, we can truly live in the present instead of getting unnecessarily riled up over the unforeseeable future.
It’s Not About Being Fearless
When it comes to the inevitable, however, a different coping mechanism comes into play. It’s not so much about overcoming real fears as it is about embracing them. Everything in life is subject to change, and when it happens, there is no way around it – we allow the change, we adapt to it, and we make the best of it.
Think of one of the greatest joys in your life. Now, imagine what it would feel like to lose it overnight. The thought of that must be crushing. Certain changes, like loss, cut deep and take a long time to heal, but acknowledging life’s impermanence and embracing it is all part of our personal growth. And like I mentioned earlier, the fear of the inevitable reminds us not to take things for granted. As British playwright William Somerset Maugham put it, “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”
So, here’s to the future – whatever it may be.
About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.