Everyone feels fear sometimes. The world can be a scary place!
Fear is a universal emotion that has evolved to protect us from danger, helping us navigate through life-threatening situations. Sometimes, we even like to scare ourselves just for fun!
When it gets out of hand, though, it can start hindering our daily lives and prevent us from reaching our full potential. That’s when understanding why we feel fear and learning effective strategies to face it head-on is crucial for maintaining good mental health.
Let’s delve into how and why fear affects us, with handy tips on how to conquer your fears and regain control over your life.
Why do we feel fear?
Just because it can make us feel bad, doesn’t mean fear is an emotion we should completely eliminate from our lives. It’s here to help us survive, after all!
From an evolutionary standpoint, fear has played a pivotal role in human survival. When faced with a threat, the brain's amygdala triggers a "fight or flight" response, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline.
This response prepares the body to confront or flee from the identified danger, allowing for a swift and appropriate reaction. It raises our heart rate and blood pressure, makes us breathe faster, and drives blood away from our hearts and into our limbs.
In modern times, this same mechanism can be triggered by situations that aren't life-threatening, a bit like a ‘false alarm’. When false alarms are going off all the time and leading to high levels of distress, normal fear responses can move into becoming an anxiety disorder or a phobia, depending on what’s triggering it.
That’s when it gets tricky, and you might want to start looking into strategies to overcome your fears.
The difference between fear and phobia
One important distinction to make is the difference between fear and what we call a phobia.
Fear and phobia are related but distinct concepts. Fear is a natural response to a real or perceived threat, while a phobia is an intense, irrational fear of a specific object, situation, or activity.
For instance, fearing heights before standing near the edge of a cliff is a normal fear response. However, if the fear of heights becomes so overwhelming that it prevents someone from doing their shopping at the top level of the mall or crossing the bridge to get to work, it becomes a phobia.
10 tips to overcome your fears
If you're held back by a fear of the unknown or struggling with a phobia, there are strategies that can help you progressively face your fears so they release their grip over your life.
1) Learn about your fear
Learning about the object of your fear or phobia can help you take back control. After all, knowledge is power. By understanding the reality of the situation, you can start demystifying your fear and ultimately reduce its power over you.
Imagine you're dealing with a fear of flying. By digging into how planes work, safety precautions, and success stories, that fear might start to lose its grip. With this newfound savvy, you might start to approach the idea of flying with a bit more confidence, progressively overcoming your fear.
2) Try relaxation techniques
Deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation can help lower fear and anxiety levels both in the moment and long term.
If you’re encountering a scary situation, try the following exercise:
Breathe in slowly through your nose for 4 counts.
Hold for 4 counts.
Exhale steadily through your mouth for 6 counts.
Follow this pattern for a few breaths, concentrating on your breathing.
This exercise can swiftly help quell fear and anxiety. Practice it whenever needed to regain your composure. Regular practice can also help make you more resilient in the face of fear.
3) Exposure therapy
This technique involves gradually exposing yourself to the source of your fear in a controlled and safe manner. This can help desensitize your brain's fear response over time.
For example, if you’re afraid of spiders, you might start by looking at pictures and gradually progress to encountering live spiders. Guided by a therapist, you’ll learn to manage your anxiety using various strategies including relaxation techniques.
This will help gradually desensitize your fear response and enable you to confront the fear with greater calm and control, ultimately reducing the impact of the fear or phobia on your daily life.
4) Set realistic goals
Want to face your fears effectively? Start with small steps. Break down the process of facing your fear into manageable tasks. As you achieve these goals, you'll build confidence in your ability to handle the situation.
If you get really scared about leaving the house, don’t jump immediately to “travel the world” as your objective. It could very well be your end goal, but you need to set more accessible ones along the way. Why not start by walking to the end of your street and back with a trusted friend?
Achieving these smaller goals will help you build the confidence you need to progressively tackle the scarier steps of your progress.
5) Challenge negative thoughts
Our fears are often fueled by negative thoughts and catastrophic predictions. Challenge these thoughts with evidence-based reasoning. Ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen? Is that outcome truly likely?"
Let’s say you’re afraid of going to the new coffee shop near your house because you’re not sure how things work there and you’re worried you’ll embarrass yourself. It’s probably more likely that the barista got proper customer service training and will be nice to you – if only to get repeat business!
If you get confused or stumble on your words, remember it’s unlikely anyone will remember the incident by tomorrow. Coffee shops see a lot of customers go by throughout the day!
6) Use your support system
Share your fears with friends or family who can offer encouragement and hold you accountable. Sometimes, talking about your fears can make them seem less daunting.
Join our welcoming community to meet like-minded people who can provide support and advice to fight your fears. There are even groups about specific fears and phobias you can join to discuss your own experience anonymously with people who understand you.
7) Use visualization
Imagine yourself facing your fear and successfully managing it. Visualization can help rewire your brain's response to the fear-inducing stimulus.
Let's imagine you're afraid of bugs. By picturing them as beautiful specimens contributing to biodiversity in their natural environment, you can re-condition your mind’s response to this fear. This process empowers you to face situations where you might encounter insects – like a picnic or a walk in the woods – with greater calmness and control.
8) Seek support
If your fear or phobia significantly impacts your life, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are particularly effective in treating anxiety disorders.
You can head to the Wellness Center on our platform to get an introduction to CBT for panic and worry management.
9) Celebrate your wins
Each step forward, no matter how small, is a victory. Celebrate your achievements and acknowledge your efforts to overcome your fear.
10) Be kind to yourself
Facing your fears is a challenging journey. Practice self-compassion and remember that setbacks are a natural part of the process. You can do this!
You can try repeating these affirmations if you’re encountering a setback on your journey to facing your fears:
I've conquered my fears before, and I will conquer this setback too. I am a living proof of my resilience and strength.
I'm patient with myself and understand that progress takes time.
Setbacks don't define me. I deserve to achieve my goals and live a life free from the limitations of fear.
Others have faced setbacks on their journeys too. I'm part of a larger community of people who understand and support me.
Facing your fears is a courageous act that can lead to personal growth and a more fulfilling life. By understanding the science behind fear and employing evidence-based strategies, you can gradually overcome your fears and regain control over your emotions.