Here are the other blogs in this series:
Resilience – Science-Backed Strategies from a Dyslexic / ADHD Perspective
Resilience Part 2- Change the Narrative – what are some ways we can do that? What about being neurodiverse would make that different from other people?
Resilience Part 4- Practice Self-Compassion – How do you do that while being neurodiverse?
Resilience Part 5- Meditate – Ways to do that and being neurodiverse
Resilience Part 6- Cultivate Forgiveness –being neurodiverse can make it hard to forgive
Facing your fears is a necessary part of life for everyone. It is never easy, but the process brings about some of our most important growth and experiences. Resilience enables us to thrive by facing our fears.
Talk about facing fear. I’m a retired volunteer firefighter and I remember the first time I suited up and walked towards a burning house and then walked through the door and crawled in the dark searching for someone. The fear of so many things was unbelievable. What made it possible was that I was with a team of people I trusted, I trusted my equipment, and this training was going to save lives in the future. I wanted to do it, so I pushed that fear aside and moved forward. With time it got easier and easier to suit up and fight fires. It helped to show me I could face my fears.
Facing your fears is the second strategy Kira M. Newman lists for building resilience in her Greater Good Article ‘Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience.’ In my last blog post, I dug into the first technique– changing the narrative around traumatic experiences that are hard to move forward from. Facing your fears is more about taking the leap into experiences that scare you. Both cases call for resilience but building it up is a different process for each.
Newman sites the Overcoming a Fear practice that lays out the steps to facing day to day fears.
Here are the steps:
- Start small, just get comfortable around your fear in a safe way. Possibly by helping others with the activities you are afraid of or finding a way to ease yourself into the activity. Newman gives an example of the fear of public speaking, suggesting that someone with this fear can start small by talking more in meetings.
- Repeat! Don’t start ramping up the difficulty right away. Give yourself time to build up experiences with your fear that aren’t negative, and notice the fear decreases over time.
- Once you start to feel the fear ease up you can start upping the challenge level.
Notice there are no time limits to how fast you move forward through this process. As I have talked about in the past, micro steps forward that don’t trigger your fears lead to the greatest success.
This practice is like exposure therapy and basically debunks our fears by building a collection of experiences that we can look back on to remind ourselves there is no danger. Studies even show that this practice rewires our brains over time. We can shrink these fears. While they might not go away completely this practice can increase our emotional control, sense of confidence, and resilience while facing our fears.
If you want to make this a little easier, I have learned to add a couple of minutes of mindful relaxation or meditation before and after facing a fear. Recently I took a hot 10-minute shower with relaxing music before I had to face a fear. I was totally in the right headspace to tackle that fear. It went great.
Now let’s get into some of the reasons that facing fears can be a particularly important challenge for people with ADHD and Dyslexia to build resilience around. Have you heard of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)? It is common in those with ADHD and basically means that the fear of failure is so strong that it discourages taking on challenges and facing fears. Cheryl Susman’s article, ‘How Fear of Failure & Rejection Keep Us from Trying New Things,’ has some suggestions for coping with a fear of failure.
- Identify your priorities
- Let go of the expectation of what you “should” do based on internalized obligations to measure up to those around you
- Decide what to do and stick with it– don’t waste time second-guessing. Take the time you need to think things through and trust yourself. If things need to shift, you can shift them!
- Don’t try to do it all. If you bite off more than you can chew it makes keeping a commitment almost impossible.
- Look at your personal progress, not where you are versus where other people are.
- Visualize challenges so you can anticipate how you are able to face them and move past them.
A lot of the neurodiverse people I coach have fears about work. Getting and keeping a job is daunting, especially for people who have been taught that their neurotype is lesser than and only a challenge to overcome. The reality is, while many of the ways work life is structured are particularly challenging to neurodiverse people, there are incredible strengths that neurodiversity brings. I am including a few resources below that affirm both neurodiverse strengths and acknowledge the challenges of having to navigate a world built for neurotypicals.
*Each of these resources talks individually about dyslexia, autism, or ADHD. I want to acknowledge that multiple neurodiversities frequently occur together.
Dyslexia- Imaginative, big picture processors, empathetic
Kate Griggs, ‘Tips and Strategies for Working with Dyslexia’
Autism- Creative, focused, strong memory, honest, dedicated
Cope R, Remington A. The Strengths and Abilities of Autistic People in the Workplace. Autism Adulthood. 2022 Mar 1;4(1):22-31. doi: 10.1089/aut.2021.0037. Epub 2022 Mar 9. PMID: 36605563; PMCID: PMC8992926.
ADHD- Energetic, spontaneous, creative, hyper-focused
Racek Nall, MSN, CRNA, ‘The Benefits of ADHD’
I used to be better at running from my fears than facing them. Once I realized that by age six, I was facing my fears daily and I had made it through that time in my life, I could face just about anything. I still get highjacked by fear from time to time, but with years of training now, I try to just go at those fears and not allow them to hold me back from going where I am meant to journey in life.
That is part of what being a neurodiverse coach is. I get to go with people to some of their scariest places and help them shine a light on the fear and their own courage. Facing the fear with someone and watching them kick its butt, is the best feeling ever.
You don’t have to fight your fears alone.