Studies show that the fear of falling victim to crime is much more prominent in women than men, and that this burden takes a toll on their mental health. During World Mental Health Month, an international movement for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma, women are encouraged to move from a state of fear to fearless.
What is fearless?
Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women Insurance explains that being fearless is both a decision and an action. “It doesn’t mean living a life devoid of fear, but living a life in which our fears don’t hold us back. It’s the audacity to be unhindered by failure or judgement, and to walk with freedom, strength and hope in the face of things unknown.”
Given that women are disproportionately affected by crime in South Africa, this is easier said than done.
Nwabisa Dlova, a Social Worker at Lawyers Against Abuse, says that the burden of fear is disproportionately placed on women in South Africa who must constantly negotiate their safety as they navigate each day.
“As a woman, I am constantly checking to see who is around me, thinking about what to wear – or what not to wear, calculating what time I need to leave somewhere to be home safely and responding ‘politely’ to men to avoid a possible confrontation. We live each day with a heightened sense of anxiety, constantly on alert for the ‘what ifs’ that may come if we drop our guard for even a moment. This burden is not just mine alone to carry, but also extends to the other women in my life as I tell them where I’ll be going, who I will be with and what time I should be home. The cumulative toll that this has on our collective mental health as women is immeasurable,” says Dlova.
So, what can you do about it?
According to author and life coach, Lori Milner: “Would you ever choose to watch a bad movie twice? Probably not. Yet when it comes to something we dread or even something painful that happened in the past, we tend to replay it repeatedly. Every time you play the movie in your mind, the picture gets brighter and the sounds more intense. Some of us have been playing the movie for years, preventing us from making progress on what matters most.”
Milner notes that although the fear is still real for you, it’s also important to know you are in charge of it and can choose a better way to approach situations, so you are always in control of how you respond. You cannot change the external world or circumstances, but you are always in complete control of your inner world.
Here are some things you can do to feel the fear, but use it as fuel:
Own your attitude. The 13th-century poet Rumi said – ‘Live life as if everything is rigged in your favour’. It’s about adopting the attitude of expecting the best and expecting everything to go according to plan. You can dissolve the fear when you approach a situation with this attitude.
Focus on what you can control. Fear becomes amplified when you focus on the things you can’t control. Let go of what you can’t control and focus on what you can. This includes your thoughts, beliefs, attitude and actions.
What is the story you tell yourself? Is your story fuelling the fear and keeping you playing small? If your story is not serving you, it’s time to write a better one. Perhaps you did have a bad experience in your past, this is one chapter, and you don’t have to keep it in the final edit. You can choose to take the lesson and rewrite a new story where the heroine uses her fear as fuel.
Who is narrating the story? The most important conversations you have are the ones with yourself. When facing a situation of uncertainty or challenge, take ownership of your self-talk. Are you allowing the inner critic to take over and anticipate the worst? Is your belief that terrible things always happen to you? Or that you need to sacrifice your personal life to be successful? Is your belief I can’t because I’m a woman? Sit in the question ‘what am I still believing that is triggering my fear?”. Is it true? And if not, what is a better belief to replace it? When your fear shows up, tune into the inner coach to encourage you and be your own cheerleader.
Choose your words. What impacts the story you tell yourself is the words you use to narrate the story. What if instead of telling yourself you’re scared, you tell yourself you are excited? Fear and excitement produce the same biochemical reaction. When you choose the word excited, you give your brain context and relax into the situation. Even if you are nervous, choose a better story. Self-doubt is not a reason to abort your goal, it is simply the opportunity to grow and step out of your comfort zone.
How do you label the situation? The antidote to fear is faith. You cannot see fear, and you cannot see faith, but choosing to believe in the latter allows you to adopt the meaning that life happens for you, not to you. It doesn’t change the situation but shifts how you will show up to it and navigate your way through it. When facing tough times, choose faith over fear.
Micro-wins are the antidote to inaction. Fear often prevents you from taking action on what matters most, even if the goal is important to you. It’s the fear of failure, of not being perfect, of success or the fear of disappointment. This becomes a vicious cycle because the more you stay paralysed from fear, the worse you feel. It is not taking action that escalates the fear and intensifies it. Progress is what motivates you through fear. Trust the process of creating daily wins and turn down the volume of the inner critic who tells you that you should be further by now.
“Fear is a projection of the mind, so if you can create it, you can also control it. Choose to create something beyond fear and rather than focusing on what you will lose, ask yourself what you will gain. Courage supersedes confidence. You cannot think your way out of fear; you have to show yourself you can do it. Every time you master your fear, you create evidence that you are the kind of person who can feel the fear and do it anyway,” says Milner.
Submitted by iheartpr on behalf of 1st for Women Insurance