Overcoming fear is a topic that seems to go hand in hand with personal growth and development. In my experience, learning how to overcome fear is easier said than done.
Over the years, I’ve come across all sorts of “advice” about how to deal with and overcome fear. Some of it has made good sense and some of it has sounded patronizing. A lot of it has fallen somewhere in between.
One of the most common refrains when it comes to overcoming fear is that fear is all in your head.
Yet, for all the information out there, I’ve discovered firsthand that fear is nonetheless a real thing that we all must contend with at different points in time. It can paralyze you or worse if you let it.
In this post, I’m going to explore several different topics related to overcoming fear that may be holding you back so you can move forward beyond your fears.
Let’s begin this dialogue on overcoming fear by talking about the benefits of facing your fears.
We’re all human and therefore we all have fears. Some of us fear death, others fear being alone, and others fear social situations. If you can think of it, there’s someone somewhere that’s afraid of it. But fear is a normal part of life! It’s what protects us and keeps us safe. There are times, though, when fear can hinder us and stop us from enjoying life and experiencing new joys.
When your fear starts to limit what you do in life, you need to conquer that fear. Does your fear of flying stop you from traveling to visit family members or prevent you from taking the vacation of your dreams?
What about socializing with coworkers after work? Have you turned down social invitations simply because you were anxious about not knowing anyone in the group?
If your fears are stopping you from taking advantage of the new opportunities in your life, then it’s time to regain control of your life and disallow your fears from paralyzing you. After all, you can’t live in a bubble! It’s time to start living your life instead of watching life passing you by.
To help you gain control of your life, here are a few tips on how to get over your fears:
Get a piece of paper and write down exactly what you’re afraid of. It doesn’t matter how long the list is, whether it has one thing or 15 things on it. And it doesn’t matter if these fears sound irrational. No one needs to see the list other than you. This is about you taking control and getting over your fears.
Try to remember a specific incident that might have caused the fear. Maybe your fear of flying intensified because you’ve been on a turbulent flight. Or maybe your fear of dogs stemmed from being bitten as a child.
If you’ve blocked out these memories because they’re too painful to remember, a professional can help you reach those memories and decipher their meaning.
A professional can also advise other forms of treatment, such as hypnosis or the emotional freedom technique (EFT).
Now the hard part begins: overcoming or conquering these fears. Be patient and be prepared to do some work because, just as the fear took time to manifest, it will take time to conquer.
In the movie “What About Bob?” there was a therapist who had a patient who was afraid of everything. The therapist used the “baby step” approach with this patient, which simply means taking small steps, one at a time, to gain more confidence and eventually overcome the fear.
What would your baby steps be? It depends on your fear.
Start with small groups, perhaps in very open environments, then transition slowly into larger gatherings. The purpose here is to prove to yourself that there’s nothing for you to fear.
Polish your social skills among people who already know you. You have less to lose and won’t feel as if you must say the right thing at all times.
Small dogs are much less intimidating (although they might bark more frequently). If your friends don’t have dogs, ask your local vet’s office or animal shelter if you can visit.
Also, some airports or flight schools might have classes in airplane simulators that help you feel like you’re in an airplane. That type of plan will take more research but will open the world to you.
You wouldn’t necessarily think that overcoming fear starts with planning. Yet, unsexy as it may sound, planning can help you calm your fears.
Think about it: you’d never climb Mount Everest without a careful plan outlining in detail the best route to get there. Yet, how often do you or many people you know run helter-skelter into unknown areas when attempting to reach your goals — without any planning at all?
We simply know that there’s an opportunity that we might want to pursue and begin the trek regardless of the obstacles that are sure to arise and that we know nothing about. Stress and anxiety can arise and overwhelm even the strongest of desires for success.
If you know ahead of time what the triggers are that could cause stress and anxiety, you’ll be better able to combat them with a careful plan – arming yourself to overcome any negatives that come your way.
There are several ways to plan ahead and alleviate any fears you may have regarding a situation. For example, Pre-planning before an event where you have to give a speech keeps you from rushing at the last minute to gather knowledge about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
It’s not all mindset that can get you through your fears – sometimes the body and mind rebel against the food you’re ingesting or lack of exercise to keep your body fit and your mind sharp.
Caffeine, alcohol and chemicals found in most foods (especially fast foods) can wreak havoc with your moods and make your mind fuzzy. Before an event or situation you’re fearful about, make sure you stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, getting plenty of vitamins B, C and E to boost the effectiveness of your nervous system and never eating a huge meal just before an event.
Your overall health may also trigger fears and anxiety. Try to get as much sleep as possible just before an event, eat well-balanced meals and exercise – even if it’s only some stretches or deep breathing.
Meditation may also help calm any fears you have about a particularly stressful or anxious situation. Affirmations during meditation can boost your self-confidence as you think about how you’ve handled situations successfully before.
It’s sometimes those things that are most fearful to you that can lead you to realize success and fulfill your dreams. For example, if the career path you’ve chosen means you have to speak in public and the thought leaves you anxious and stressed out, you’ll want to take steps to alleviate that fear.
You could take courses, engage a mentor or strive to discover other tips and advice on how to get over the fear. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect at anything you want to try.
Perfectionism can lead to the irrational fear that everyone notices when you make a mistake or take a wrong turn. In reality, no one cares and it’s doubtful than anyone even noticed.
Closely related to the notion of planning as a way to help calm your fears, nothing seems to work as well at calming fears like taking action.
When you set goals for the future and plot how you’re going to reach those goals –- one step at a time -– things change for the better and you become less fearful and more sure of yourself.
Setting goals gives you a plan to follow on the journey to meeting those goals and realizing success. Each step is a challenge, and when you meet them head on and become victorious, you’ll boost your self-confidence knowing that you made it happen.
You may have some self-limiting beliefs about yourself that make you fearful of even trying for success. When you’re afraid to try, you’re telling yourself that you’re not capable of following through to get the desired result. That thought can make you give up.
If you’re afraid of not reaching your goals and experiencing failure, try to think of taking action as an opportunity to learn how to do something different. Even if you do fail, you’ll learn something that will help you on your next journey – and have a little boost of self-esteem to boot.
There’s nothing like getting a new perspective on what you’ve tried in the past by changing up the process. Monotony in actions will produce the same results you got the last time you tried it.
Begin by setting small goals. If you looked at a tall mountain and can’t imagine yourself climbing to the top, it’s doubtful you ever will. Seasoned mountain climbers know they have to plan each step carefully and plot their path to the summit. That’s exactly what you have to do.
Starting with small goals does wonders to assuage your fears. With each success, you’ll be more confident about moving on to the next – and the next. Eventually, you’ll be able to reach the ultimate goal because you’ve made the little ones happen.
Be bold and decisive about each step you take toward your goals. You may not feel so self-assured at first, but with each little win, you’ll be able to see yourself as more of a winner.
Persistence is also a necessary part of achieving your goals. No successful person has ever given up on their dreams. They may try different approaches if one doesn’t work out as they hoped, but eventually they get the results they want.
If the outcome you want doesn’t materialize no matter how much time you devote or enthusiasm you have for it, immediately change your perspective and begin again. Dwelling on a failure doesn’t do a thing for your future success.
Planning as a way to help you overcome your fears is all well and good, but what about the things we can’t necessarily anticipate? Fear of the unknown can become the most paralyzing fear of all.
Worrying about what the future holds is one of the most common fears. Often times you’re anticipating the worst while, at the same time, realizing that a life in fear is not very pleasant at all.
Fortunately there are certain strategies you can use to conquer your fear of the unknown.
Try implementing some of these techniques to conquer your fear of the unknown:
When you’re approaching an unknown situation, it helps to make a list of all the possible outcomes. Some of the results may be good and some not so good, but feeling like you have just a little foreknowledge about the future will help to ease your fears.
Make an active effort to clear your mind. One of the reasons you feel fear is that you’re worried that something bad is going to happen. This could be because of a situation from your past that you’ve projected into the future. You need to take these thoughts off the table and approach your fears with a clear head.
It sounds easy, but it may be difficult to put into practice. Strive to visualize everything turning out positively. If you concentrate more on the positive aspect, you can actually turn your fear into excitement.
Fear has a real purpose in appropriate situations. The experience of fear makes your heart rate rise and you’re better able to escape threatening situations. However, humans have built many unnecessary and non-life threatening fears. Once you realize that these types of fears serve no purpose, you’ll be stronger for it.
You might be feeling alone with your fears. It helps to talk through your problems with someone close to you. Perhaps it’ll help to discuss your fears with someone who has experienced a similar situation. Just knowing you’re not alone can ease your fear, even if the person doesn’t have any especially helpful advice to give.
If you’re afraid of the unknown in a general sense, starting small will help reduce your fear. Instead of tackling a seemingly huge insurmountable task, just try doing something small first. Break out of your comfort zone for a little bit and try something new you’ve never tried before.
The future can be frightening when we think we must control every aspect of it. While there are certain actions you can take to maintain some kind of control, there are many things you have no control over. When you accept that the future will be what it will be, regardless of how you feel, it may not seem quite as scary.
When your thoughts get caught up in the future, whether it’s the near future or the distant future, it clouds your current situation. If you’re especially fearful, take a step back and focus on what is going on in the present moment.
Your present thinking automatically allows you to take things one step at a time. If you’re currently doing the laundry, for example, the only thing you should focus on is getting stains out or putting clothes in the dryer – or positive things you look forward to. Brush other worries away and live in the here and now.
Trusting your inner instincts is an important skill to learn, although there are times when your mind can play tricks on you. When your body and mind are under stress, it may be difficult to see the difference between good thoughts and those that arise from fear.
No one enjoys dealing with fear; however, it’s a necessary part of a fulfilled life. The best line of defense is to practice remaining calm and ask for help when you need it. After all, two minds striving for a rational solution is usually better than one.
Even in difficult circumstances, you probably have an idea about what is truly right or wrong. However, it’s a good idea to try to recognize the situations where you tend to have trouble thinking clearly. That way, when these situations do come up, you can start working on solutions, instead of giving into the cloudy thoughts.
You probably shouldn’t trust your thoughts in the following situations:
People often don’t recognize how detrimental stress can be to the mind and body. Stress can cause you to make unwise decisions and think too quickly. Stress can take over your body and produce hormones that alter your thinking patterns.
There are varying degrees of anxiety that can affect anyone at any time. When it takes over in a strong manner, such as when you’re dealing with crippling fear, it can lead to erratic, irrational thoughts or even panic.
Sometimes you’ll have a bad day or even a bad week. Having a tough time can cause a negative thinking pattern that can cause you to think unreasonable or even absurd thoughts. You may start to have angry or depressing thoughts that can’t be trusted.
When you’re having thoughts that seem real, but are rather unreasonable, remember that it’s not coming from you. Rather, it’s coming from the build up and repression of years of self-doubt, negativity, stress, anxiety, or even past circumstances. That’s precisely why you cannot trust those thoughts!
You now know that negative thought patterns can arise from stress, anxiety, fear or even the past. Crippling fear, unfortunately, hurls many strongly negative feelings your way. But it’s how you deal with them and proceed with your thought patterns that make all the difference. Strive to take time to cool down and relax your mind before making important decisions.
One way to know if something is your true feeling is to wait a few days before making a decision. For example, if after a week of thinking something over, you still think the same way, then it’s probably true. Of course, you first have to ensure that your mind isn’t under attack from stress, anxiety, negativity, or fear.
If you find that you’re frequently in fearful situations, you can concentrate on healing those feelings. When your mind begins to race, take in a large dose of oxygen. Believe it or not, deep breathing is a signal for your mind to relax and think clearly. So breathe deeply and breathe often to begin overcoming fear.
Also remember that you’re not alone. You have people who can help you and you shouldn’t feel shy to ask for that help. If you feel uncomfortable talking with a family member or friend, consider the help of a coach or counselor.
You might feel an urge within you to move forward – to do something to change your life – but fear is keeping you firmly stuck in your comfort zone.
You want success. You crave it. Yet life seems so much easier if you avoid change rather than embrace it.
It could be that you’re subconsciously resisting change because of fears that are holding you back.
There are always obstacles whenever you make a forward movement. Some of the obstacles are pretty easy to figure out. Others aren’t – because they’re not as obvious to us.
Most people can recognize when fear strikes and they’re afraid to do something. Yet other times, you come up with excuses — anything really, so that you don’t have to face the facts and admit that it’s actually fear that’s holding you back.
There are common fears people have that are hidden in excuses that keep us stuck. One of the top ones is thinking that you don’t have time to reach for your dreams, life changes, success or whatever it is that you want.
This excuse is one that’s used to keep you busy on the surface but it’s a smokescreen for staying in place. Everyone can find time to take a few small steps toward a dream regardless of how busy they are.
It’s just a matter of prioritizing where you do spend your time. This excuse is often also feeling that you’re so busy, you just can’t add one more thing to your plate.
This is another excuse people use when fear is actually the driving force. Learning what you need isn’t as hard as your fear can make you believe it is.
If you wait for the right time, you’ll never make a move. The right time is elusive and no one ever manages to find it. All you have is the time you’re currently in. The best time to move forward is the time you have.
That’s one of top excuses people use, but it’s actually fear talking. It means that they’re afraid they won’t have enough money to pay their bills if they make certain life changes.
This excuse is used to justify holding back out of fear of failure. If you can place the burden of not acting on someone else’s shoulders, it helps you feel better about not chasing your dreams.
Doors don’t always open for your dreams. This excuse is one that’s found in the fear that if you try, you might discover there are no opportunities for you.
The thing about opportunities is that they don’t always jump out at you when you’re not taking action. You have to knock on the doors or you have to create the opportunity yourself.
This an excuse that hides the fear that everything won’t work out. The truth is that not everything works out all of the time. If it did, this would be a perfect world.
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