Strategies for Handling Fears vs. Risks

Posted on October 26, 2021

Fear and risk are often viewed as synonymous with one another, but they are in fact very different. It is easiest to classify fear as a subjective response to a perceived threat, whereas risk is an objective threat. Despite their differences, they are both extremely real nonetheless and can jeopardize our wellbeing if not managed properly. However, two different things require two different approaches, so here are our best strategies for handling fears vs. risks. 

Categorizing your Obstacles

It is difficult to determine which mitigation strategy is best if you do not know which problem you are facing. Thus, the first step in identifying an appropriate course of action is to determine if the obstacle is either a fear or a risk. To do that, make a two column list (one column for fears and one column for risks) and write down every single concern you have. Simply confronting the obstacle head-on by writing it down often alleviates a significant amount of stress. 

Our President, Jennifer Burton, recently got the opportunity to learn from Adventure Psychologist Paula Reid who has gone on a multitude of adventures including an around-the-world yacht trip, winter mountaineering, and a skiing expedition in the arctic. Before her skiing expedition, Reid performed this exact categorization activity. Here is her list: 

Once you have determined which type of obstacle you are facing, then you can begin to address it. 

Addressing Risks

Reid suggests six primary methods of handling risks: removal/ prevention, transfer, mitigation, contingency plans, deference, and acceptance. 

In the context of her arctic expedition, one risk she faced was frostbite. So addressing that risk looked like this:

Removal/ Prevention: Though it was impossible to completely remove the risk of frostbite, Reid could educate herself on appropriate ways to combat it.

Transfer:  One way Reid could transfer this risk was ensuring that she had insurance to fall back on if she did suffer from frostbite.

Mitigation: Reid could do her best to decrease the likelihood of getting frostbite by preparing herself with adequate snow gear and equipment. 

Contingency Plans: Reid’s contingency plan was what she would do if she did get frostbite. Her fall-back plan was to get medevaced out of the arctic in the event of a medical emergency. 

Deference: Deference is Reid dealing with the risk when it occurs. In other words, if she got frostbite, she would do the necessary medical procedures to stop it. 

Acceptance: Acceptance would be Reid acknowledging that this expedition makes her susceptible to frostbite but doing it anyways. 

Addressing Fear

Since fear is different from risk, it requires a different set of actions. Fear is an evolutionary response intended to make you aware and alert to something in your surroundings. Reid suggests you lean into the fear and understand why you are reacting fearfully. She also posits that a certain amount of fear is actually healthy and can push you to new achievements. For example, public speaking may be intimidating at first but taking the plunge and speaking at a meeting can help build your confidence for future events. Thus, it is beneficial to do one small thing that scares you everyday in order to grow. 

Hopefully, knowing these strategies will help you boldy conquer the unknown while protecting your wellbeing.

Also Read: Exercising for Fostering Innovation in the Workplace

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