Don’t Be Scurred!
Fear management is an extremely important part of Circus training for EVERYONE. As a circus artist, you are asking your body to do things that hurt, and to take innumerable large (perceived) physical risks. (I put “perceived” in parentheses because that is based on the assumption that you are training in a safe space with a professional). The actual physical danger you are in should be greatly minimized by your coach/environment. But remember that many things you are doing in your training are completely counter to thousands of years of human conditioning. In almost every case except training German wheel, you shouldn’t let go of things while you are upside-down, put your face close to the ground while falling, or the myriad of other insane things you are asked to do on a daily basis. Own your fear, and it only makes it worse to beat up on yourself for being scared. A startle response and fear/anxiety are completely rational and normal responses; don’t add guilt into the mix as well. After you take responsibility for your fear talk to your coach and if they are any good at all, they will have a healthy understanding and respect for fears, they had them too.
Okay so that’s step one, acknowledging fear and not trying to hide it away (hiding only makes it stronger). Now how do we manage it? One important thing to remember is that it is exceptionally hard (probably impossible) to rationalize fear away. One of my wheel students who studies neuroscience was talking to me about where fear is located in the brain. Fear and rational thought are located in completely different parts of the brain, and that makes it hard for them to talk to one another. You can tell yourself over and over that your feet are connected and letting go is safe, but that message can’t be heard over the fear screaming “NONONONONONONONO!”
So what can you do? In my experience, I have had the most luck battling irrational feeling with other irrational feelings. 🙂 For example trust, love, compassion, these emotions live in the same house as fear does. That makes it much easier for them to communicate. This is why trust is so important in the coach/student relationship. If you can let yourself trust your coach (assuming again that they are worthy of your trust, which is a decision you should make rationally) then you can start to pass them some of your fear (believe me you have enough to share). I was fortunate enough to have a world-class coach, Wolfgang Bientzle. I can’t count the number of times he actually saved my life by hauling me up by the shirt or pushing my body into the right position. That is not to say I never got hurt, but I was able to pass my fears over to this professional. I could let him know I was scared about something and that allowed me not to have to carry that fear all by myself. Use your coach; trust them. If you can give some of that responsibility to your coach, it will be one less thing clogging up your brainspace.
At the end of the day, there is no 100% answer; if circus were easy, then everybody would be doing it. Remember that fear, pain, struggle, and bruises are your badges of honor; wear them with pride. I have seen people paralyzed by fear surrounded by the world’s best coaches. It happens to everyone sometime. Often in the most unexpected places, weird things will set people off. Respect your emotions; listen when your body tells you something. But remember it is your body, and you can do with it as you please, some things just take more effort. Keep fighting the good fight, wheelers!