How to Handle Fear

By Andy Ciordia

Looking Over the Edge at 14,000 Feet

When not changing the world at Interact, I like to jump out of reasonably serviceable airplanes (since there are no perfectly good airplanes.) Every time I get ready to jump, I have a nervous tick run through me. On the slow ride to altitude, I prepare myself, triple-check my gear, but I still feel the nervousness tick through me. Twelve years into the sport and hundreds of jumps in, I still have these feelings. They are good feelings that keep you sharp and safe. However, to let them dominate you will rob you of great moments in life. I’ve learned to take steps to handle my fear.

Nervousness is Excitement Without the Breathing

Early on one of my instructors taught me that being nervous was the same as being excited just without the breathing. The same neural pathway is used for both. If fear, nervousness, and excitement are this closely aligned, then you can change the way it is perceived. You have more control over the situation than you give yourself credit. Let’s look at how we can do that.

SmileGolden Retriever - Smile

First, smile. We elicit a psychosomatic response by smiling. The act automatically begins to trigger a happier, more relaxed moment. Now when I say smile, I don’t mean to only force a smile but S-M-I-L-E. Feel it!

You know what a big cheesy grin does in the moment –  pull that to you. There are all sorts of great reasons to smile. New studies are showing us how it helps create positive-loops in the brain, aids in overall contentment, and helps to rid ourselves of stress. So, cheese!


Now that you’ve got that big grin; take a big breath! When you begin to feel fear and nervousness creep in, you shorten your breathing. Which in turn will ratchet up our internal fight or flight response and feelings of fear. We don’t want to create an anxious moment. We want excitement. An adrenaline charge into a fearful moment is not the direction you want to be heading. What we want is to pull the body’s natural endorphins out to give you elation. Breathing is an important part of handling your fear.


Just that alone would feel good on any day of the week but let’s add to it. Reach down into yourself and laugh. Not a nervous teeter, but dig into the diaphragm and pull a big belly chuckle out. Laughter raises our blood pressure, increases circulation, and pushes blood back out into the extremities (cold hands or feet? Laugh them away!) Wa-hooo a bit if you have it in you. Let’s flip this nervous coin on the other side. We are breathing, smiling, even laughing a bit which helps get a handle of your fear.

Now, you are anticipating a great moment. You’re smiling, positivity forward, mind in the right gear. Now let’s jump! Or walk on that stage, or get up out of the chair in the boardroom, or… It works everywhere. Not only that but by pulling these great moments into yourself you will charge those around you with a sympathetic response. Pull everyone along the happy train.

Take Heart

Life is full of precious moments. Fear will rob your future of them if you let it. When you find yourself beginning to fret about an upcoming moment, remember these steps. Take that nervous energy and turn it into an energetic, positive one. You will feel more liberated, and a great outcome will follow.

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