Fear Management

If you remember In the Spirit of Halloween, I have quite a bit of fear when I lead climb. I’m not special or unique for this; many lead climbers face large amounts of anxiety on the wall, whether it be because they were dropped in the past or because they simply don’t like heights or falling. Some people work through it. Some people don’t.

I don’t have all of the answers, and I’m not sure I ever will, but I’d like to share what I’ve come up with so far on how to tackle these moments of panic on the wall:

Step 1: To Gaslight or Not To Gaslight

You need to really ask yourself if this fear is reasonable. Would a resulting fall cause you and/or someone else physical harm? If there is a valid safety concern, you need to take your feelings seriously and calmly find a safe solution. Otherwise, take note that this anxious thought is up for debate. Label it as false in your mind.

Step 2: Four Square Breathing

It is imperative that you get your nervous system (pun intended) back on the same page as your thoughts. To do this, you can try four square breathing. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and repeat at least 2 more times, up to as many times as you need to relax. Maybe it sounds lame, but when you get nervous your breathing tends to either pick up or halt, and neither option helps with critical thinking, so fixing your breath can help center you again. Gaining control of your breath can help you feel in control of the situation, and reminds your body that you are safe. From here, you can start to think coherently.

Step 3: Decide on a Plan

Figure out some options (falling, taking, dynoing, etc.), and decide on one. Give yourself the option to give up and the option to keep trying. This process isn’t going to work overnight, and you need to give yourself some grace. Decide how much you’re going to push your limit, and don’t second guess yourself. Committing to your plan can help you feel more confident in the plan itself, and will stop those pesky thoughts that will nag about what’s really the best idea. You don’t need to be the best. You need to do what feels right for you.

Step 4: Nut Up or Shut Up

As is goes in Zombieland, there comes a point in time when you need to either “nut up or shut up.” Maybe it’s not the best saying, but the meaning is well taken. Once you have found the best logical plan, you need to either just do it or forget about trying at all in the first place. Do it or don’t. At this point, your mind needs to be clear, and you need to just be. It’s easier said than done, but by this step you are not allowed to hesitate any longer. It’s time to go. Just like that.

Step 5: Reflect

This step is often forgotten, but it is just as valuable as any other. After all is said and done, reflect on what was helpful for you. What felt genuine? What added to the fear? What other thoughts did you have that encouraged or discouraged you? Understanding your needs with practice will help you tailor your panic checklist so that you can fight the fear in the most effective way.

I hope this was a helpful starting point for you fearful leaders out there! Stay safe and crush!


9 Replies to “Fear Management”

  1. I love these tips because they can be used in all aspects of life. The four square breathing is something I could use in a lot of situations – especially hiking in scary areas. As for me, I would add one more question to ask myself: If I don’t do this am I going to regret it later? Great post!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These are great steps for dealing with any fearful advancement in life. Taking on lead roles, whether climbing or heading a discussion group involves similar physiological responses. The breathing exercise is always helpful. I love that you added reflection at the end. Without it, you start at square one next time.

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  3. I can’t believe that I forgot about moving away and just breathing. I do all this cognitive stuff wherein I run my hands all over the way, get insecure, and people below or my partner says, “Just step up” over and over. Breathe. Thank you.

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  4. I’m not a climber, I’m a hiker and long distance cyclist. I met some climbers last year when I was out on a cycling trip. “Do you get scared?” I asked, fully expecting them to laugh at me. Instead, they responded without hesitation, “of course, all the time.” I was gob smacked! I had no idea that climbers got scared. I don’t really get scared doing the things I do, not because I’m Wonder Woman, but because they’re not really that scary. I still have to make decisions and stick with them. I recently had to pull out of a hike because I wasn’t confident I was going to be able to make it through the remaining 60km. I had to identify if my concerns were real, which wasn’t easy, because at the end of the day, it’s not always obvious if a concern you’ve got is a mind-fabrication. In the end, I decided to can it and walk 10km out to get picked up at a cross road. Once I decided this, I stuck with it and made a commitment to not label myself as weak, and instead to label myself as smart for making the right decision. And it was the right decision because I’d been bitten by something (a spider or snake) and 4 weeks later I still have a massive, disgusting hole in my leg! Besides, the world isn’t ending tomorrow and I can always go back and start where I left off.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this. And I am going to use your 4 square breathing technique. You don’t have to be a climber to appreciate this concept. It is relative to so many situations. Thank you for sharing and stay safe out there..

    Liked by 1 person

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