Kristen Ulmer was recognized as the best female big mountain extreme skier in the world for 12 years. Since retiring as an athlete in 2003, she spent the next 15 years studying intently with a Zen Master. Kristen is now a thought leader, master facilitator, and fear specialist who radically challenges existing norms around this deeply misunderstood emotion. She is the author of the book, “The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead.”
In this interview, Kristen starts by talking about her career as an extreme skier. She explains how repressing fear for many years led to PTSD and started causing problems in her life. She describes fear as the primary emotion beneath many other negative emotions. Kristen then goes into how PTSD manifested in her life, and reveals some of the near death experiences she faced during her skiing career. She also explains how we deal with emotions after trauma determines whether or not we develop PTSD.
Next, Kristen discusses how her repression of emotions showed up in other areas of her life. She reveals some common signs of emotional repression. Chris also talks about the anxieties and traumas he sees in his coaching clients. Kristen then contrasts the way animals and humans deal with fear. She explains how the amygdala triggers the fight or flight response, and gives examples of the consequences of repression. She goes on to emphasize the importance of emotional intelligence and feeling our emotions in an honest way.
Kristen then explains how to go from a repressive to inclusive relationship with fear by starting a fear practice. She walks us through an exercise where we imagine talking to our fear as if we’re talking to a person. She discusses how to accept, feel, and become intimate with fear, and gives an example of this process from her own life. Kristen gives additional examples of how to change our language around how we talk about fear. She also shares her insights on dealing with emotion shaming and expressing emotions around others.
Finally, Kristen offers additional strategies for honoring our fear. She talks about some of her work with facilitating ski camps to improve athlete’s relationships with fear. She also shares her thoughts on how we’re using archaic models of repression in a modern world. Kristen then gives some examples of people who have an intimate relationship with fear. She goes into more detail on her personal journey of changing her relationship with fear and what she learned from this process.
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