Podcast Episode 8: What A Horse Taught Me About Fear

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Fear is a basic human emotion that we all experience. Believing your fears can make you aggressive or completely immobilize you. In this episode your learn the: 

  • Difference between rational and irrational fears
  • How fears are triggered from our thoughts
  • How a horse helped me overcome fear
  • Fear and excitement come from the same place

⁣Fear. Your brain instructs the body to increase your breathing and heart rate, dilate your pupils, and make your palms sweaty. Surprisingly though, when you feel excitement, the brain triggers the same
physiological reaction.⁣

Read the Transcript
I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to talk to you today about something that I struggle with for many years, and that’s fear. 

In a workplace environment fearful people don’t act scared. They usually aren’t hiding in the bathroom stall shaking. Although they may be calling a friend from the restroom, talking in between the whooshing of a flushed toilet. Ugh. Funny. Or awful. 

Fear and anxiety are contagious. So is calm. Think about your current or previous supervisor. How did they set the vibe of the team?

People in fear can act very controlling or aggressive. Fear can show up as anger, arrogance, defensiveness, lack of collaboration and communication, and general stubbornness. 

Or fear may immobilize you, you can become obsessive, or you may shrink, not stepping up, avoiding risks and staying small. If you take itty bitty steps, there’s only itty bitty risks. Fear is never a valid excuse for staying small.
It’s just a sign that you have work to do to manage your mind.

Fear does not mean that something has gone wrong. Fear means that you’re normal and you’re wired for survival.
There’s rational fears like fear of falling, car accidents, bugs (yes, that’s rational), and irrational fears like fear of failure and fear of success.  

Without your mind, there is no fear. Let that sink in. This is not the time to judge yourself. Your fear gets worse because you resist it. You don’t want that feeling in your body. Maybe your throat tightens. Your shoulders tense. Or you get that nervous flip in your stomach. 

How does fear show up in your body? 

While on the outside I may have had a hard leather-wrapped New York City shell, occasionally I did have irrational fears of failure, or of being excluded, and as a traumatic brain injury survivor, I sure as hell had a constant and rational fear of falling again. 

I thought acknowledging and expressing my emotions would overwhelm me and bring me deeper into fear. I just refused to allow them. I bet I was charming to be around in those early years. 

Being scared is normal. It’s part of the human experience. Scared is a feeling, it’s just a vibration in my body. It doesn’t mean I’m in imminent danger. But fear can be a beast. 

And it was suggested that I work with one. 

Yup. Equine Therapy my friends. Horse therapy. I’m definitely open to new experiences and I’m definitely the girl who will try most things once. 

I kept thinking, what the eff is a horse going to teach me so I can overcome my fear? 

But I like animals and I set out to find an Equine Therapist. I found one rather quickly– not too far from NYC. This farm was an all rescue situation. And I love, love rescue animals. 

Horses who were retired police horses, horses with injuries, and horses that had been mistreated and were in recovery. 

According to Psychology Today, horses can be an emotional mirror for humans. They respond to the feeling state we show. They are herd and prey animals, which means that they have a strong emotional sense and use this sense as a survival tool; they feed off of and respond to other horses in the herd. If one horse in a herd is scared, the others will become frightened. They respond similarly to humans. If a person approaches a horse with anger, the horse will respond by shying away or becoming stubborn. Horses never hide their emotions.

Let’s stop for a sec and ground. The point of this podcast is not about equine therapy although you can google around to determine if that’s the right step for you. 

The point is to tell you my story of how I overcame fear. And how the experience, the memory, and the message stays with me today, so powerfully even years later. 

The day of my first equine therapy appointment arrived. 

I drove out to the farm with both curiosity and trepidation. I do recall deciding to be in the experience, to do it, and to not judge it. 

I got into this tremendous ring that was about the size of a football field. There were about 50 horses mixing and mingling with each other. The therapist gave me a piece of a carrot and told me to stand in the center of the ring. And then she said DON’T MOVE. 

Now, I should also explain that many of these horses were huge, draft horses. I recognized a Clydesdale that’s the kind of big I’m talking about. 

The therapist turned to walk away and as she did, she called over her shoulder, and she said she knew which horse was going to choose to work with me. She held up a piece of paper noting that she wrote down the horse’s name. 

Now, I’m in the ring, and I believe she made some sort of whistle or call and the horses started to stir and begin to move. 

From the center of the ring I can see a horse from way over on the other side start to trot towards me. Then it begins to canter like a nice jog. Not like horse racing but not a trot either. 

The horse is now coming directly at me. It’s not stopping. Not slowing down or easing up. 

She keeps yelling DONT MOVE. 

I’m thinking Sweet baby Jesus, what did I get myself into?

I went from smiles, and ah, horses are beautiful. To WTF I’m going to died. 

I was no longer smiling. I almost shat myself while I had images of the horse making contact with me at 20 miles an hour with a full thousand pounds of muscle. 

I started to tremble. All the while Missy outside the ring is yelling DONT MOVE. 

Horse comes closer. DONT move. Even closer. DONT move. 

Then, by the grace, it clicked with me. 

In this moment I was safe. Horse charges me. In the moment I am safe. In this moment I am safe. 

Now I am crying realizing that if I stay present, I am not in fear. It’s only in the projection of all that could go wrong that I drop into fear. 

There is no fear in the present. 

What happened? Jo-Jo the horse skidded like a cartoon character in front of me and began to sniff me. He chewed on my collar. He licked my hand. Which really meant my hand and forearm were pretty much in his mouth and he eventually found the carrot I forgot I was holding. That’s it. He hung around me a bit and allowed me to pet him. Calm is contagious. Disaster averted.  

It was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. When I stayed present I was safe and had no fear. Because in this moment, and this one, and this one, I was safe. If you’ve seen my instagram feed you may have noticed a big beautiful horse on a red background that hangs in my office. That’s not Jo-Jo, that’s Illuminari and he’s a powerful every day reminder that when I am present I am not in fear.  

Most of our fears come from our thoughts. Think about it. The majority of your irrational fear  – you created. You believe your thoughts and you are now letting them stop you. 

They say the exact same hormones are released whether you feel fear or excitement.⁣

Crazy, right?

⁣Fear. Your brain instructs the body to increase your breathing and heart rate, dilate your pupils, and make your palms sweaty. Surprisingly though, when you feel excitement, the brain triggers the same physiological reaction.⁣

⁣So what’s different?⁣

Your thoughts about the circumstance.⁣

When you are feeling excited it’s because of your thoughts.⁣

When you feel fear it’s also because of your thoughts.⁣

To change your thoughts you must examine them.⁣

Even the negative ones.⁣⁣⁣

Awareness precedes change.⁣

⁣⁣Make a decision to investigate your thoughts as part of your morning routine.⁣

This doesn’t mean you’ll have totally blissful days.⁣

It simply means that being aware of your thoughts and feelings will enable you to change them over time.⁣

Examine what’s in your head and heart.⁣

⁣⁣I promise you will start to see shifts pretty quickly.⁣

⁣⁣And then you’ll be fully prepared for whatever this beautiful and crazy world throws at you.⁣⁣⁣

Let me know what you think by emailing Hello@JillGriffinConsulting.com

Alright my friends. We’ll talk soon. Bye. 

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Tune into The Refresh Your Career Podcast Available on all streaming apps. https://jillgriffin.buzzsprout.com/