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Taking Safe Risks - Moving Past Fear and Embracing Your Values

By: Carissa L. Strohecker Hannum, LGPC, NCC, Team Leader and Alumni Representative at The Renfrew Center of Bethesda

Posted on April 29, 2019


How do you feel when a friend invites you to an important social gathering? What is your response when asked to present to your classroom about something you are passionate about? Although there can be many different appraisals or reactions to these situations, fear is often the most common. Fear—that emotion that sometimes feels like it is going to leap out of your throat, causes your stomach to drop, and your heart to start beating faster—can lead you to miss out on important opportunities.

Anytime you go out of your comfort zone, it is natural to feel scared, excited, frustrated, and anxious, causing red flags in your brain to trigger. Naturally, you may even avoid approaching these experiences. Retreating into your comfort zone may feel good in the short term, however avoidance has long term consequences. Your emotional and personal growth can be put into jeopardy, you could miss out on valuable activities that give you fulfillment, and you may even feel regret or shame.

You can overcome the fear! Let's take a "safe risk"!

In sessions, I'm frequently asked how an individual can embrace change and allow themselves to tolerate the fear associated with uncomfortable activities. I encourage you to take a "safe risk" in these situations. A safe risk is not a behavior that puts you into danger, but rather allows you to embrace change and take control of your life. It allows you to move closer to your values and the very things you are passionate about. When you feel fear, I urge you to take the following steps to begin to move past it, embrace change, and learn more about yourself.

1. Values
Ask yourself, is this activity/situation important to me? Is this in line with my values? (If you are not sure what your values are, try listing them out). If the answer is yes, then taking a safe risk may be helpful to begin leaning into experiences that you would normally avoid.

2. Make sure that the activity isn't dangerous
Ask yourself, does this activity put me in danger? If it does, then this would not be an appropriate time to take a safe risk! If you have any questions about this, please discuss with your outpatient team or supports.

3. ARCing/Tolerating fear
With any situation, speak to your outpatient team about embracing the fear. I find that fear can be tied with feeling unsafe. Notice any associations that you have with fear to be able to move forward. Taking a safe risk requires you to confront fear and notice appraisals of it.

4. Reappraise any thinking traps
You may notice a lot of "what if" thoughts in an uncomfortable situation. List any thinking traps and test out how truthful these thoughts may be. This is also a great time to allow yourself some self-compassion with reappraisals to these thoughts. Going out of your comfort zone is scary! It is okay to feel that way!

5. Mindfulness
Any time you go out of your comfort zone, it is natural to feel threatened emotionally. Utilize a guided mindfulness activity to slow your processing of this emotion so that it doesn't feel too overwhelming.

6. Small Steps
Taking a safe risk also means coming up with an action plan that utilizes a wide variety of alternative behaviors. You may feel that the change in front of you feels like a mountain. Break down your goal into small necessary steps that you can take, ensuring that they are manageable and you are supported. Allow yourself to create stages that you can begin immediately and feel realistic to you. It is okay if you have to meet smaller goals first, in order to eventually get to your bigger goal!

The idea is allowing yourself to experience the change rather than retreating from it. Many times, when you allow yourself to have the experience in front of you, you may learn more about yourself, your abilities, and get closer to the individual you hope to be. These experiences can allow you to begin to treat yourself with the love, care, and respect that you deserve!

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