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How I Learned Not to Run Away From Scary Situations

By: Shauntel Begley Allen, LCSW

As a child I was always shy and frightened to speak or perform individually in front of groups of people. I thought as I became older, this feeling would surpass and I would become more comfortable speaking to groups of people. Not until I participated in a leadership class did I learn that I was an introvert. You see, introverts draw their energy from within instead of from others. They prefer intimate conversations instead of casual chitchat.

So what does this have to do with running away from scary situations or teaching ourselves to survive or thrive? When you are painfully afraid to speak in public settings, fear can stop you from achieving your goals. Fear can cause you to feel physically ill and emotionally distressed. Whenever I have to speak in a crowd or even a group setting with people I am not familiar, my stomach aches, I get a headache, and my palms feel sweaty. I think, “ I am going to forget everything I am going to say, I do not feel confident. I feel people are judging not only what I am saying but the way I sound.” There have been times, when I have cancelled activities because Fear crept in.

I came to a point in my life, when I no longer wanted Fear to have such a massive control over my life. I am a clinician. My role is to help others overcome stressors, improve self-confidence, weather the storm and utilize past successes as proof that they can do it. I opened my own private practice and immediately I realized I could not sit back and wait for people to 1) realize they need help (2) hope they look at their insurance booklet and select me out of 50 providers to provide counseling. I had to start networking. I began speaking at various organizations about my services, participating in community outreach events and volunteering to provide workshops to various groups. You see my livelihood, now, depended on my ability to secure clients.

I know many are wondering, what did you do? How did you do it? How do you learn NOT to run away from scary situations? How can I stop allowing Fear, Anger, or Sadness prevent me from reaching my dreams, overcoming hurt, moving into my destiny, or becoming emotionally whole?

First I had to make a decision that I was worthy of becoming more confident, of reaching my goals and sharing my gift with others. Even when I lacked confidence speaking and feared judgment, I told myself “I can do this.” Sometimes you have to speak power into your life. Remember the book, The Little Engine that Could, we read that book to our children to encourage them that even when life seems difficult, if they believe they can do it, they can. So next time you are faced with Fear, Anger, or Sadness, remember “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Nothing is more powerful than your mind and your ability to speak life into your situation by thinking positively.

The next step is to build positive relationships with others. When you have a healthy support system they can encourage you when you are afraid. You also feel a sense of responsibility to people you care about. Whenever I am scheduled to speak to a group, I always meet the individual personally to make a connection with them. Once I am connecting to them, I feel responsible to follow through with any commitment I make to them. I mean, who wants to disappoint a friend, family, colleague or business partner. They are the ones you may need in the future personally or professionally. Over the years, due to my spiritual beliefs, I have realized the importance of leaving a stamp on each person I encounter. What I noticed with the recent passing of Prince, a musical icon, is that his music touched people’s soul from various ethnicities, age groups, socioeconomic status, and religions. Although after his death we heard of alleged drug abuse, it was his philanthropic duties that his support system wanted to share with the world. This is what having a healthy support system can do for you. They will acknowledge your flaws but still support you as you face Fear, Sadness or Anger.

Lastly, practice this new way of thinking, feeling, doing. If you are Fearful, Angry, or Sad seek help to help you learn how to retrain your mind and body to think, feel and do differently. It takes practice, practice, practice. Do I still get nervous when I speak? Yes!!! The feeling is still there however I practice what I am going to say several times. I record myself speaking and listen to it and make corrections as needed. Sometimes I practice in front of others to receive feedback. When I have those distressing thoughts, I say to myself “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” This then turns to “I know I can, I know I can, I know I can.” How do I know I can? Because I have done it before.

The way to face scary situations is to first say “I can face this.” Think of the Little Engine That Could. Secondly, surround yourself with positive people who are encouraging, uplifting and who are where you want to be. My husband always tells our son that he needs to watch baseball if he wants to become a better baseball player. “Son, watch how he stands. Look at how he holds the bat.” His belief is if you want to be great, surround yourself with people who are already doing great. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable. Finally, practice facing scary situations. If it is too anxiety provoking, do it with a trained professional. If not, as soon as you experience the emotion of fear, STOP, remember The Little Engine That Could and think about how you faced the situation in the past positively. You can do it! We are built for this!