Interacting With Your Fear
Acknowledge your specific fears. It’s easy to ignore or deny your fears, even to yourself. But courage can’t come into play unless you have a fear to face down. By owning your feelings you’ve taken the first step toward gaining control over the situation.
Name your fear. Sometimes fear makes itself known immediately, clearly, and other times it’s more difficult to name those anxious feelings lurking in the back of your mind. Let your fear rise to the surface and give it a name. It may be concrete (like a fear of cats) or situational (like a fear of being called on in class).
Don’t judge your fears. Acknowledge what comes up with no attachment to “good” or “bad.”
Understand your triggers. Is it something obvious, like the sight of a snake on a trail? Maybe passing your career counselor’s office door sends your mind into a downward spiral when you walk down the corridor in your high school. Figure out everything that triggers your fear. The more you can understand your fear, the better.
Question the power the fear holds over you. Does your fear cause you to stay in bed instead of getting up and going to a class you’re afraid of failing? Do you avoid visiting your family in another state because you don’t want to get on a plane? Figure out exactly what power your fear has over your mind and behavior.
Imagine the outcome you desire. Now that you better understand your fear, think about what exactly you want to change. Think about yourself experiencing life without your fear. How do you feel? For example:
If your fear is commitment, imagine yourself happily with a partner.
If your fear is heights, imagine yourself conquering a tough hike. Connect with the feeling of accomplishment.
If your fear is spiders, imagine yourself seeing a spider and feeling neutral.
Part 3 of 4:
Facing Your Fears
Identify false beliefs. Many fears are based in false beliefs or catastrophic thinking. When you see a spider, you may immediately have a belief that says that the spider will harm you, and that you will die. Identify these patterns of thinking, and start to question them. Do some online research and understand your actual risk versus perceived risk. Recognize that the worse-case scenario is highly unlikely. Begin to re-structure your thoughts to not engage in catastrophic thinking, and start to talk back to those thoughts.
When your fear arises, pause and reflect on your actual risk. Talk back to your negative thoughts or false beliefs and say, “I recognize that some dogs are vicious, but the vast majority of dogs are gentle. It is unlikely I will get bitten.”
Try gradual exposure. After you have confronted your false beliefs, begin to expose yourself to the fear. Oftentimes we’re afraid of something because we haven’t been exposed to it very much. “Fear of the unknown” is a commonly used phrase to describe the automatic aversion people feel to something that’s different.
If you’re afraid of dogs, start by looking at a badly drawn doodle of a dog done in silly colors. Look at it until you feel no fear response.
Then, look at a photo of a dog, then a video of a dog. Examine it until no fear response exists.
Go to a park where you know one or a few dogs will be on-leash and watch them until you feel no fear.
Go to a friend’s house who has a dog and watch him interact with a dog until no fear response is elicited.
Ask a friend to let you touch or pet his dog while the dog is restrained by your friend until you feel neutral.
Finally, be near a dog and spend one-on-one time with a dog.
Practice engaging with the fear. The power to label your emotions is beneficial for self-understanding and emotional intelligence. It also appears that engaging with a fear and verbalizing your fear has incredible power to help you overcome fears and regulate emotions. Researchers had spider-fearful individuals exposed to a spider, and participants that labelled their fears (“I feel very scared of this spider”) had a lower fear response the following week when exposed to a different spider.
Running from fears never improves the way you feel about a fear. Next time you experience a fear, verbally engage the fear, using words that describe your fear and anxiety.
Learn relaxation techniques. When your body experiences fear, lots of triggers ready your body for a “fight-or-flight” action response. Learn to override this response by counteracting with relaxation techniques. Relaxation tells your body that there is no danger and that you are safe. Relaxation can also help you cope with other stress and anxiety in your life.
Try deep breathing exercises. Focus on your breath, and start counting each breath: four seconds inhale, then four seconds exhale. Once this is comfortable, elongate your breath to six seconds.
If you notice your muscles tensing, be conscious to relax them. One way to do this is to clench all the muscles in your body for three seconds, then relax them. Do this two or three times to melt stress throughout your body.
Part 4 of 4:
Benefitting From Your Fears
Make your fear a source of fascination. The same things we fear also incite feelings of exhilaration and even passion. That’s why people enjoy extreme sports, horror movies, and swimming with sharks on vacation. Try to re-frame your fear in a positive light and acknowledge the thrill it can offer. When you start seeing fear as a source of energy, you might even embrace its role in your life.
Harness the power of fear. Fear can have incredible power in life-or-death situations. People report the sensation of time slowing down, senses becoming highly acute, and having the ability to instinctively know what to do. While other communication within our bodies takes about half a second to reach awareness, the fear system works much more quickly. Fear also deadens our awareness of pain.
Understanding the positives of fear can help you use it to your advantage. For instance, many people experience stage fright, yet the fear leading up to a performance can help you be in the moment and focus intensely on what is before you. Learn to acknowledge the fear and then direct it to where it will be most beneficial
Most people experience fear prior to an event, yet experience no fear when in the middle of a situation. Remember that fear heightens your senses so that you have the ability to perform efficiently and powerfully.
Start seeing fear as an opportunity. Fear can be used as a tool to help us identify problems and solve them effectively. It’s a guidepost, a red flag that warns us when something needs attention. Once the discomfort of the initial wave of fear passes, examine it more closely to see what you can learn.
When you feel fear of something unfamiliar, take it as a sign that you need to get to know a person or situation better.
If you feel a flash of fear about an upcoming deadline or event, make it an opportunity to make a plan of action to get fully prepared, whether that means getting started on a paper, rehearsing for a play or practicing a speech.