Overcoming Fear: Turning stress into excitement

12 July 2022

Overcoming Fear: Turning stress into excitement

Authored by Penelope Sophios

As I paced back and forth in the corridor, I could feel the palms of my hands sweating profusely whilst my heart began to rapidly beat. Although I had delivered several presentations to large audiences before, the thought of having to walk into the room and speak in front of hundreds of people terrified me.

I tried to focus on my breathing in the hope that it would reduce my stress, but my anxiety continued to grow. I began to wonder if I was experiencing anxiety at all or rather excitement disguised by the thought of fear? Maybe I was in fact excited to stand up and present my idea to a supportive audience. Maybe what I was feeling was not stress at all, but merely mimicked its symptoms.  
What I have learnt: How the presence of fear alters our perception of the situation

From this experience I began to develop a deeper understanding that our emotions can be similar. The key differentiating factor however is how we then perceive these emotions, based on the circumstances we find ourselves in when they arise.

For example, physical responses to stress and excitement can be similar and could include; the heart rate to increase; pupils to dilate; skin to tingle; sweat production to increase and breathing to become more rapid. However, the way in which our brain chooses to process and interpret our automatic stress response is key to whether we believe we are anxious or excited. When we perceive fear to be present our response immediately makes the switch from excitement to stress as we no longer feel safe. 
A rollercoaster ride for example can result in one person being terrified and another exhilarated. The key difference between the two being the presence of fear. Therefore, whilst stress and excitement are within the same physiological state, the distinguishing difference is your own perception of the circumstances. Hence, your mind should have the capability of being trained to switch between these two states by altering our perception to overcome fear. 

Overcoming Fear: Turning Stress into Excitement 

Turning stress into excitement by overcoming fear is a valuable skill to master as fear itself has a large impact on decision-making. In every choice we make there is either a desire for gain or a fear of loss. More often than not critical decisions are being made from a negative rather than a positive perspective as we often make these judgements in response to our emotions instead of logic. 

An IBM article by Kevin Beaver on Security Decision-Making  delves into the severe impacts of making critical security decisions that are based on fear rather than fact. Whilst fear of losing your job, fear of losing respect and fear of getting in trouble are natural reactions to security decision-making, it is important to not let this fear define you, your role, or the information security of your organisation

Often, we may feel fear without knowing what we are fearful of.  When we take the time to put these fears into perspective of broader life, we begin to realise that we can handle what we consider to be the ‘worst case scenario’. Making these associations and overcoming our institutional fears allows us to feel more secure in our decision making. By transitioning this fear of loss to a desire for gain, we can focus on making sound security decisions that are in the best interest of our company. 

To make this transition from stress to excitement through the elimination of fear, I recommend the following 6-stage process:

1.    Do not ignore or fight it. Face your fear and allow it to be there.
2.    Acknowledge it. Once you recognise its presence, tell yourself "I'm feeling fear".
3.    Feel it. Take the time to recognise the sensations of fear and your bodies responses. 
4.   Understand it. By knowing that fear is merely your bodies physiological response to released hormones, you understand that the feeling cannot cause you any harm. Thereby influencing your perception of the situation as you now feel safer.
5.   Embrace it. By acknowledging and understanding the sensation, you can now learn to respond to fear in a way that serves and guides you, without reacting to its negative perceptions. Thus, altering  our mindset by considering what I could learn from trying to solve such a complex problem, rather than stressing about the problems difficulty.
6.    Enjoy it. Now you can sit with your fear. By taking away its negative connotations, we can utilise it to foster feelings of excitement instead of stress, encouraging you to grow and learn. 
By learning to pay close attention to your internal response to external factors we can respond more resiliently to things that may scare us and adjust our reaction accordingly to overcome fear. For further information regarding the damaging fears that inhibit security decision-making, read Security Decision-Making: When Decisions Are Based on Fear Rather Than Fact by Kevin Beaver.