Do you feel scared? About the big things; small things; imagined futures? Fear is universal - it engulfs us all at some stage, if not many stages, of our lives. Currently, the world is dealing with an imaginable human crisis. So how is one meant to properly move forward, chug along, un-paralysed by the state of our worried minds? The one - perhaps quite obvious - remedy is to first acknowledge your vulnerabilities. Don’t cage it away. Talk the shit out of your anxieties. This is essentially the premise for Cressida Bonas’ new podcast, Fear Itself. A platform where the Royal Ballet School-trained dancer and actress invites guests - from Ellie Goulding to base jumper Iiro Seppänen – to discuss what they are most afraid of. How fear manifests itself, and its power to both hold people back and fuel change.
Today, chatting in our respective abodes (she, in West London, with her fiancé, Harry Wentworth-Stanley), Bonas exudes a warmth and genuine curiosity, very often flipping questions back to you. “My mum said that when I was younger, I would constantly be asking people questions, until I would really annoy them,” she laughs.
“The concept for this podcast came about two years ago,” Bonas explains. “I was journaling a lot and talking to people about their experiences of fear; thinking that people wouldn’t be very open about that. Amazingly, people did want to talk about it, and I would just write it all down. I had all this information in a notepad, and I thought ‘well, wouldn’t it be nice to actually record some of these conversations, so I can share them and perhaps help other people.'" While the episodes were recorded ahead of the Coronavirus pandemic, a lot of the issues discussed – fears of being alienated, out of work, or failing people - feel all the more pertinent now.
Often, outwardly ‘successful’ people, will be described as 'fearless' at some point; by their friends, colleagues, in articles written about them. But could this be more damaging, than inspiring? The intimation being that one should extinguish this feeling at the first sign of it?
“I don’t think anyone is fearless unless you are a sociopath,” she says. “There’s something wrong with that word. Rather than pretending that we are fearless, talking about our fears I think is courageous. It releases something.” Looking back on her career, being scared of failure, rejection, or “not being good enough” have often pushed her forwards. Especially in an audition room, when the comfort zone is far away in the distance. Those experiences have been the ones she is “most thankful for”.
Every guest on the podcast is asked: “When was the last time you felt truly afraid?” Her answer to that question, today, is an amalgamation of self-criticisms. “At the moment, I feel fear when I’m not thinking about the present and I’m worried too much about the future,” she says. “About what’s going to happen: Am I ever going to act again? Are people listening to the podcast? Maybe it’s just crap! All these fearful thoughts that run away and you need to just, somehow, stop. There’s so many different ways of trying to soften those thoughts.”
PORTRAIT OF CRESSIDA BONAS BY Rebecca Reid
In our current climate - where tuning into a constant stream of uncertainties is all too easy - anxiety levels are, unsurprisingly, spiking. In one morning, we can swing between sadness, frustration, contentment, exhaustion, happiness, and guilt… and that’s all before we’ve sat down for breakfast. Amongst this, there is the big fat P. Pressure. A pressure to do more, say more, be more.
“There’s this feeling of ‘oh god, we have all this time to create and find something that we really love doing creatively that we wouldn’t be able to do or have time to do in our normal lives,'” Cressida agrees. “But there’s also that pressure of ‘god, we have to do all these classes online. That pressure is only what we put on ourselves.” Now, she is using this time to be still and feel grateful for all that is real, meaningful and present in her life.
“I have a very big family - and a lot of them are actually high risk,” she says. “My parents, who are in their 70s, and two of my sisters - one has scarred lungs and the other has had cancer. Even though I can’t see them, we’re speaking every day. It puts everything into perspective. I had tiny worries before this whole pandemic and now I’m just thinking: ‘Life - we just don’t know what’s going to happen.’”
Recently she read an article, which suggests that this moment in isolation is about “really getting to the core” of who we are. But even that comes with its own sort of stress. “I suddenly felt ‘ah, in this time people are really finding themselves, so I’ve got to really find myself. Who am I?’”
“I thought – ‘oh, I still don’t know!’” she laughs. “I rang my sister and I was like ‘are you finding out who you are in this time? Because I’m still not really sure.’ Her response was really wise, she said: ‘perhaps people are finding out more about themselves but, more so, I think you’ll look back on this time and realise what you learnt and how you grew. Now it’s quite hard to see that. [But] this is a time we’re going to remember forever.’”
Looking ahead, when circumstances allow, she’s excited to spend a night dancing with her friends: “I haven’t really thought about how or where or what. But I cannot wait!”
“Music to me is completely essential. What would we do without music? My brother actually is the founder of this immersive sound technology, Iris Listen Well. And Jeremie Quidu, a sound healer, has this hour-long experience on their website which engages your mind and body. It’s absolutely amazing. You put your headphones on, and you feel like you are actually in the sound. It’s almost a 3D experience. I did that the other day and highly recommend it.”
“I’m a big reader, so I always have by my beside one spiritual book and a novel for escapism. At the moment I’m reading The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma and two other books: Educated by Tara Westover, which I’m half-way through - it’s a memoir. And the other one is called The Secret Hours: it’s a period drama and very romantic. Really easy - just loveliest thing to read. I’m a complete romantic!”
“I follow Matt Haig on Instagram - he’s amazing. Some people say that get irritated by self-help quotes and I think ‘[but] great if they are helping people and they are motivational.' Also, one of the very first self-help books I got to research my podcast was Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway – I love that book. It’s very old school but it’s great and not complicated, like some self-help can be.”