Is It Time to Change Your Relationship with Fear?

How would you describe your relationship with fear?  

For most of my life, I had an uneasy relationship with it. Let’s just say the power dynamic was off–it was in charge instead of me. I felt the impact at work and at home. At the office, I let it stop me from sharing innovative ideas when I was the most junior person in the room. I let it stop me from going for the role that would really stretch me. At home, I let it stop me from having conversations with my partner to get my needs met. I let it stop me from setting boundaries that would allow me to take care of myself, instead of putting everyone else’s needs above my own. I thought I was doing a pretty good job ignoring fear and doing the things I was afraid of doing. I led workshops for rooms full of people. I traveled to new places. I even left an unhappy 15-year marriage. But each time I suppressed my fear and initiated a change in my life, I found myself in situations that felt eerily familiar to where I was before. The new job didn’t feel exciting and the new relationship had the same patterns as the old one.

Fear impacts us personally in all areas of our lives. But let’s be clear: fear has a real impact on the bottom line; ours and corporations. A recent McKinsey poll found 85% of executives agreed that fear holds back innovation in their organizations. 

How is fear impacting you and your organization?

Experts say that in order to shift our relationship with fear, we first need to eliminate the idea of being fearless because it’s actually not possible. All humans experience fear. It’s a natural biological response designed to keep us safe and alive. It is run by the reptilian part of our brain. This part of our brain is developed to protect us from imminent physical dangers in the world around us that just don’t exist today. It is responsible for all of the fears cited in the McKinsey study.  

The fear of uncertainty alerts the mind and body to strive for familiarity; which in the past has been crucial to our survival. It helped to know what animal or enemy might be lurking around the corner. The more predictable and familiar things were, the safer we were.  

Fear of criticism is driven by our intrinsic need for social connectedness and belonging. Again, when the reptilian brain developed, being accepted by our tribe was necessary for survival. That is no longer the case, as we can buy or rent shelter, purchase food at the grocery store, etc. But the brain still views criticism and the possibility of being rejected by our family or team as a threat. This fear is especially strong for women, as we were raised with conflicting expectations about how we need to show up in our families, with our friends and at work. Be assertive, but don’t be aggressive. Be nurturing and take care of your family and kick ass at work. And make it all look easy. Never let them see you sweat. We were conditioned to believe that we need to be perfect (or better than anyone else) to gain the approval we so desire.

The fear of negative career impact is driven by the reptilian brain telling us that a setback at work is life-threatening. I coached a high-potential female sales leader who wanted to improve her ability to motivate higher performance from one of her sales support teams. Once she realized the reason, her reptilian brain was telling her that their poor performance could lead to a huge hit on her P&L and the possibility of her getting fired, she was able to clearly and effectively address the issues and improve their performance.

So why does this survival instinct create fear in our modern lives when we are not facing imminent physical danger? The problem is, our minds don’t know the difference between a real threat to our survival and the social or psychological stress we experience today, like getting constructive feedback or being talked over in a meeting. 

Go for that promotion at work or change your career? Danger. Why not just stay in the job you’re good at that feels familiar and easy? Go for the big new account that puts butterflies in your stomach? Danger. 

When your mind senses the danger of the unfamiliar, the fight or flight response is activated. Your heart beats faster, palms get sweaty and your muscles tense. Even more important, though, is that your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for rational, analytical thinking, shuts down.  You want to act on instinct to quickly get out of danger!

Most of the time we are not even aware that it’s being triggered, because the fear is disguised as resistance. Recognize that fear shows up to stop you from making even the most positive changes in your life. This is just your mind resisting change. This newfound awareness allows you to take steps to change your results.

Today, I use fear as a sign that I am growing. I view butterflies in my stomach as excitement and a sign to move forward rather than stop. What if you thought of fear as a green light instead of a red light?

5 ways to shift your relationship with fear:

  • Notice how your body feels when you’re in fight or flight. 
  • Take steps to regulate your nervous system through intentional breathing. (Try a few deep belly breaths or three rounds of “box” breathing through your nose for a count of four.)  
  • Drawing breath deep into your lungs activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the “rest and digest” state.
  • Remembering thoughts are not facts, so it’s time to question them. 
  • What’s one thing you would do if you weren’t afraid? What’s one step you can take in that direction?  


Comfort and the fear of change are the greatest enemies of success.”

Jeanette Coron


By Sheila Eggert

Sheila Eggert is a transformational mindset coach and motivational speaker. Her passion is helping successful women experience their next level of impact with ease and grace. She combines 35 years of experience developing leaders at Fortune 500 companies with a deep understanding of the science and art of change to help clients create a life that feels as good on the inside as it looks on the outside.

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Contact her at  [email protected] And check out Sheila’s TEDx talk in Atlanta on May 16th! Contact Sheila to get a special gift for attending: Register for the event here:

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