Fear and What you Can Do About It

We've all been afraid of something at one point or another. In fact fear can work to your advantage sometimes. You've probably heard of "fight or flight," the evolutionary instinct we have when confronted with danger. In this case fear is a survival trait, necessary to keep us safe. But what about other times? What about when it prevents us from every day activities?

As humans have continued to develop we've begun to live more predictable lives, in comparison to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We live in more predictable societies, and often our need for "fight or flight" response has diminished. Yet we continue to have fears, sometimes irrational ones. Very often fears are focused on things that are out of our control, or situations we rarely encounter (i.e. coming across a snake or being in a plane crash), or sometimes we fear that which is "different" from what we're used to, be it a person, a place or a thing.

Whatever your fear is, if it's preventing you from doing something, if it inhibits your daily activity or keeps you from doing something you want, it may be time to reevaluate it.

Here are a few ways you might be able to decrease your fears on your own:

1. Take baby steps
Don't bite off more than you can chew. While it may seem like a good idea to just dive in and conquer that fear (and that sometimes does work for some people), you might find that this approach does more harm than good. Try taking it slowly and breaking down the fear into small steps. For example if you're afraid of dogs, begin with holding a stuffed dog or walking near a dog park. Try to set yourself up for success by keeping the steps small and doable - show yourself that you can conquer your fear one piece at a time!

2. Know your enemy
Knowledge is power. The more you try to understand the focus of your fear, the better you might feel. If you're afraid of flying - understanding the process at take off, how turbulence works etc. could help you feel more secure when you take your next flight.

3. Don't feed the fear
Like I mentioned above it's important to gather information, but false or inaccurate information could only make your fear worse. If you're researching to learn more, make sure not to go too far into things that are one sided and only validate your fear (i.e. if you're afraid of flying and only looking at plane crashes). Make sure your resources are credible and reliable before beginning. When in doubt - go to the source!

Sometimes our own thoughts feed our fears too. Try keeping your thoughts in check. When you find that you're only having thoughts that increase the fear, take a deep breath, give yourself a moment to pause and reevaluate the validity of these thoughts.

4. Enlist a friend
You might find you need help getting started. Find someone you feel comfortable with and enlist them to be your assistant in the process. Before you begin, let them know what you might need from them as far as support (reassurance, a hug, a hand to hold etc.).

5. Exceptions to the rule
Was there a time when you didn't have this fear? What was that like? What made that situation different from now? Challenge your fearful thoughts by finding exceptions to the rule.

6. Be kind to yourself
I can't express this one enough to my clients. Be kind to yourself. Nothing shuts down progress like a critic. If you find you're being hard on yourself, expecting more than you're able to do right now, stop and slow down. Remind yourself that this is a process and it's going to take time, and that's ok.

7. Talk about it
Tell a friend, a relative or a counselor. Find someone you trust and who can listen. Keeping your fearful thoughts to yourself can only multiply them and prevent you from moving on.

8. Breathe!
If you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of breathing exercises. Remember to take a few calming breaths as you get started to keep you relaxed.

More links on fear that you might like:

The Hidden Brain podcast has a great piece on Fear

If fear of flying is your thing, check out AskThePilot.com

More in depth steps on dealing with fear

10 more ways to get over your fear

*Please note - These are simply suggestions that have worked with my clients. These approaches don't work for everyone. Depending on the degree of fear you're experiencing, you may find some work and some do not. I encourage everyone dealing with fears that prevent them from living their day to day lives to talk with a mental health professional.

top image Danielle Helm via Flickr

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