How to Combat Fear in Times of Uncertainty

It is no understatement to say we are living in uncertain times. Uncertain times breed fear and anxiety. As leaders, how do we combat fear?

I spent 10 years as a cliff-edge crisis negotiator, leading a team of negotiators in over 2000 deployments. 

Some days were harder than others. There were many incidents that felt hopeless. That hopelessness filled us with anxiety and made us ineffective. So, we had to learn how to manage fear and anxiety in uncertain situations, both for ourselves and for others.

These are the tools we learnt:

How to Combat Fear in Yourself

Identify what feeling you are experiencing to de-escalate the emotion

Take a moment and identify what emotion you are experiencing. It is important to give it a label. There are 34,000 identified emotions, so we have plenty of options. Pick one that best suits your current feeling.

Identify the thought the feeling is connected to

I would sometimes feel anxious when facing a tough negotiation. My thought would be “there is nothing I can do to stop this person dying”. But, by identifying the emotion and its accompanying thought, I would de-escalate it.

That would then lead me on to the next tool:

Reframe the thought

Take the thought and reframe it to be more positive. If you can’t make the thought more positive, at least make it more neutral. More positive emotions will accompany more positive thoughts, and positive emotions are our friend in a crisis.

In the example above, I would remind myself “listening is the best crisis tool there is”. With the positive thought came hope. Whatever that person’s situation, I could listen, and listening would help.

Identify the emotion you are experiencing and the thought it is connected to. Follow that by reframing the thought to be more positive. In doing so you will combat fear in yourself.

Helping others to combat fear

This is how we would combat fear in others:

Listen to Understand

If you want to de-escalate fear in another person, start by listening to them. But make it effective. Listen to understand the other person and help them feel understood.

Ask open questions. Give them space to talk.

Label the feeling and the connected thought

Name the emotion you are hearing. Then connect the emotion you have identified with the accompanying thought and communicate it back to the person. “So, you are feeling fearful because…”

Help them change the negative thought to a more positive thought.

For every fact, we can have a range of opinions. Some of those opinions are negative, some are more positive. Help the person choose a more positive thought. Don’t tell them what to think. Offer them another option. “Have you thought about..?”

Re-engaging smart thinking

These sets of tools de-escalate negative emotions. But they also have another positive effect. They re-engage our smart thinking.

Anxiety disrupts the executive centre of our brain. This is the part we use for problem-solving, decision making, and controlling short-sighted behaviour. These tools fix that problem.

By labelling emotions and thoughts, and reframing negative thoughts to more positive ones, we re-engage smart thinking and combat fear in times of uncertainty.

If you want to lead yourself, your team, and your organisation more effectively in this present crisis, I want to recommend my latest Udemy Course “Smart Thinking For Times of Crisis – Influential Leadership,” Click on the link for more information.

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