How do you know when fear is ruling your life?

I’m a natural scaredy-cat. As a child I lagged behind my big sister and cousins as they tore around the fields and scrambled up trees outside our grandparents’ house in France.

I wanted to keep up; I wanted to be brave and fearless like them and not care about hurting myself – but even from that young age I was already catastrophozing, imagining my knees cut open from falling on the gravel road, imagining how much it would hurt to fall out of a tree onto the prickly, sun-crisped grass.

The outcome? I was naturally left behind. I remember that feeling so clearly, of being a straggler, and as I grew up it never left me. I never wanted to fall beind again, or miss out, or be weak, or not be experiencing the most exciting version of life. My natural fear is like a weight that’s locked to my ankle. I’m constantly dragging it around, pulling against it to keep it moving.

I’m palpably scared of heights but it doesn’t stop me from climbing whenever I’ve had the opportunity, even if I’m slow and shaking and have to give up a route a thousand times because I freeze.

I do my best to overcome fear so I can enjoy life. Because the truth is, I always feel good when I do the things I’m a bit frightened of. For instance, I’m scared of sharks but I don’t try to avoid them. In fact, I’m almost obsessively interested in them and I would love to see them in the wild one day. As a teenager I spent hours searching the Internet, reading every shark attack story, learning about all the different species and where they live and what they do. I still loved being in the sea. I kayaked, windsurfed and sailed – but the fear was always there. If I capsized I’d cling to the hull of my upturned boat with my legs tucked up because I was so sure I was being circled by hungry sharks (I live in the UK, where there are only 3 species big enough to hurt a person, all of which are timid, pretty rare, and perfer open ocean). It was crazy and I knew it was – but it was hard to stop my own irrational fears circling my mind like my imaginary sharks.

But I still kept going back into the water. Even in Costa Rica, where I know for certain there are tiger sharks and bull sharks in as little as 4ft of water, I went swimming in the sea on my own. I stayed very close to the shore and only lasted about 10 minutes before I got the heebie-jeebies, but I was SO proud of myself. The truth is: sharks rarely attack humans. There’s always a chance of death wherever you go and how could I visit a pristine sandy beach in Costa Rica, sit under the baking sun but not have a dip in the sea? In that moment the risk of having a limb torn off was worth it…because it was a low risk, and the reward was high.

Fear is a pretty useful emotion to have. It’s a survival response and without it we wouldn’t even be here, we’d have been eaten by sabretoothed tigers centuries ago. But it’s important to learn how to moderate your fear because, in wanting to not be hurt or die, we can miss out on the very things that make life so wonderful.

When fear rules your life you:

– turn down opportunities
– never feel quite satisfied
– become resentful
– never reach your potential
– feel annoyed with yourself
– feel jealous of other people
– never achieve your dreams
– feel constantly anxious
– end up on a life path that has never felt quite right.

When bad things happen in your life, it’s natural to feel an increased level of fear. Nothing feels safe anymore. You realise anything could happen at any moment and you just want to gather yourself and everybody you love into a tight, safe ball.

I understand that fear is necessary and useful sometimes but, as a natural scaredycat myself, I see the benefit of recognising when a reasonable level of fear has become toxic and is affecting yours or other people’s lives in an adverse way. Are you projecting your own fear onto other people? Are you hindering your own progress and potential?

I’m still scared of lots of things today, of course. But I’m willing to investigate those fears and find out where they come from and if they’re protecting me or holding me back. The truth is: shit happens. It happens to reckless people and it happens to sensible people. There’s only a small amount of control we really have over life – so instead of scrabbling around to find the reigns that aren’t there, isn’t it better to just smile and enjoy the ride?

How do you face your fears? What are you most scared of and why? Tell me in the comments!