True North Blog

Managing Fear

Managing Fear

Lately, I’ve been thinking about fear, a lot.  Initially, a client asked me a few weeks ago during a survival course how to best conquer it during a wilderness emergency, but I’ve continued to reflect on the topic for a mix of reasons, some practical, mostly personal.

To be clear, I am not sure that it is possible, or even justified, to recommend to anyone some specific, or “best,” way to deal with fear.  After all, it is so situational, dependent on many factors, like personality, background, and events.  Besides, it seems to me so presumptuous to offer some catch-all answer.

For what it’s worth, from my experience, I don’t think that it’s even possible to conquer fear, rather only to manage it.  Even then, it’s still hard, feels messy, and tends to leave one second-guessing the events for a long time afterwards.

Personally, I take much from the writings of Persian jurist and poet, Jalil ad-Din Muhammed Rumi, who in the 13th century penned:  “Heart, be brave.  If you cannot be brave, just go.”

RumiOkay, I must admit, it fairly much resembles Just Do It.  But I believe that Rumi’s words are richer and can help guide us today as it did others almost 800 years ago.  Besides, how much inspiration can you really take from shoes and clothing?

Whether it is a sudden emergency situation in the mountains, an accident on a highway, or a more mundane aspect of our lives, all of us will, at one time or another, become indecisive with, even paralyzed by, fear.  This isn’t simply an expression, but in fact a natural truth.  This is part of your brain’s defense mechanism which has evolved over the eons to keep us safe (just as it has in all land mammals) by gambling that when you spot an approaching predator it won’t notice you standing there frozen so instead passes on, or even chases after someone else who is running away in a panic.  Of course, the dangers that we face today are different from those 70,000 years ago, but the result can often be similar.  And sometimes simply doing nothing can be worse … Just like it doesn’t help the possum or deer in your headlights.  We may need, then, just a little courage to give us that needed push.

After all, courage is defined by fear.  That’s because courage only occurs in the presence of fear.  Fear, then, helps to motivate each of us to aspire to be a part of, and to do, something bigger than ourselves.  This, though, is not always clear, or easy, and we may even still be terrified.  So this is when, as Rumi writes, we must trust our instincts and “just go.”

This may mean reaching beyond your comfort zone, but this is what makes Life joyful.  Right?

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook.

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