Being Bold Doesn't Mean Being Fearless

Luana Marques
June 1, 2023
Being bold doesn't mean being fearless

Dr. Luana Marques—Associate Professor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School and former President of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America—shares three important lessons from her own journey with anxiety. For more, check out her new book, Bold Move: A 3-Step Plan to Transform Anxiety into Power

As a 12-year-old in Brazil, I found myself navigating the choppy waters of my parents' recent divorce. The storm had passed, leaving a silence that echoed through the halls of our once lively home. One morning, my tears and a stomachache became my silent rebellion against the world: "Mom, I can't go to school today."

Don't get me wrong. School was a sanctuary for me, a haven amidst the chaos. But the fear that gripped me was not of school itself, but the prospect of returning home to an empty house. It took me years, and becoming a psychologist, to realize that the child in me was wrestling with anxiety.

Why am I sharing this personal journey with you? Because I understand I’m not alone; many of us carry the weight of anxiety through much of our lives. And because I also want to share that it doesn't have to be this way. 

My life pivoted at 15, when my grandmother's wisdom began to reshape my understanding of anxiety. (I now know that her teachings were backed by science.) My hope in sharing this with you is that you too can learn to embrace your anxiety, turning it into a catalyst for growth.

Here are some transformative lessons I've learned:

  1. Treat the infection, not the fever: Anxiety is like a fever, a distress signal begging for attention. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but it's not the real culprit that keeps us ensnared in pain. The true infection is 'psychological avoidance': the band-aids we apply to momentarily numb the discomfort but that keep us stuck in the long term—ike canceling dates out of fear, refusing a promotion because you don’t want to give a presentation, or avoiding confrontation to keep the peace. Avoidance is the real enemy here, not anxiety. 

    So, what is the solution? The next time anxiety knocks at your door, take a moment to pause. Ask yourself, "Am I looking for a quick fix?" If the answer is yes, try to sit with the anxiety instead of running away from it. Address the infection to find a real cure.
  1. Approach, don’t avoid: Anxiety often propels us to escape from discomfort. However, the more we run away, the more powerful it becomes. Avoidance teaches our brain that we can't handle certain situations, which fuels our anxiety. So, every time you say ‘no’ to attending a party because you are scared, you are teaching your brain that you can’t handle it. The opposite of avoiding is approaching. Taking small, calculated steps towards the anxiety will train your brain that you can become bold and go towards the things that matter most to you. So, in moments of anxiety, choose to lean into the discomfort instead of avoiding it. Use your mindfulness as a support.

  1. Follow Your Compass: We all have an internal compass: our values, such as love, kindness, compassion, etc. However, we often let our emotions steer us off course, leading to an emotion-driven life rather than a values-driven one. If you care about your health, but constantly skip the gym, or if you cherish family, but are never home, you are letting emotions override your connection to what is most meaningful, which leads to more anxiety. Instead, choose to live a values -driven life by aligning your actions with what is most important to you. Don't let anxiety derail you. Anchor yourself in your values for a more fulfilling life.

My journey has been a rollercoaster, with lows that have been painful, and highs that have been spectacular. Anxiety has been a constant companion, but it no longer controls my actions. I encourage you to make your own bold steps towards your dreams. Remember, being bold doesn't mean being fearless. As you stride towards your dream life, anxiety and fear may accompany you. But with practice, using mindfulness as a support, you can take the wheel of your own life. You are the driver of your journey—steer it mindfully.

Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, President of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), and an expert in CBT. Dr. Marques’s work focuses on empowering individuals to understand and overcome their anxiety.

Previous Article
This is some text inside of a div block.
Next Article
This is some text inside of a div block.