Living a life fueled by fear is nothing short of miserable.
When fear drives our decisions, it can keep us from fully living our lives. When it resides in our souls, it can take the beauty, curiosity, wonder, spontaneity and general fun out of our life experience. Fear gets in our way.
Often, our fears are passed down to us. For example, if our parents were afraid of the woods, we probably never went camping as kids. It became instilled in us that the fear of animals, unknown elements, poisonous plants, and unpredictable weather took precedent over any kind of fun we could have had on a family camping trip. Our fear of falling off the ledge overrules our desire to climb to the ledge to experience whatever breath-taking view it has to offer.
If we allow it, our fear can keep us from experiencing the world around us.
Most of us harbor our fears. We keep them close to the vest. We often feel we must face them alone. We are either too embarrassed to talk about them, or we honestly just don’t have the emotional capacity to let go of our pride and admit that we are afraid. If we let it, fear will block all of our fun. Fear, in some way, shape or form, is something most of us have in common, but if we try we can actively work to keep it from being our tour guide through life.
When we focus on conquering our fears (or at least diluting them), we take back our power to live authentically in the moment, and we get what we really want: excitement, inspiration, joy and possibility.
So, how do we move past our fears? How do we live in a way where fear does not rule our decisions, our ability to function (in some cases), or our pursuit of an exciting life? How do we control our fears so they do not control us?
There are six key things we can do to deflect and work through our fears:
We can name them.
What are our specific fears? And what is the difference between our fears and our worries? For example, we may be worried about our children making poor choices or bad decisions as they come of age. But, maybe our worry has deeper roots. It’s possible that we know someone who, for example, got into a terrible car crash while driving home drunk. Our worry becomes more of a deeply held fear when it stems from the fact that we witnessed how a bad decision affected the life of a person we know.
Take time to figure out actual fears and how they differ from day-to-day worries. Some of us may have a deep fear of rejection. Some of us are afraid of the water or of heights. Once identified, we can recognize the legitimacy of the fears themselves. If we write them down, we can then rationally go through the (hopefully short) list to figure out what can actually be placed into the worry column. We often find that we have more worries than actual fears when we lay them out in front of us while digging up their roots.
We can talk about them.
Once we know what our actual, legitimate fears are and why we harbor them, we can work to communicate them to other people if possible. We can diminish the magnitude of our fears by releasing them.
If we struggle with feeling embarrassed about our fears, we need to move past that and talk. Often, just sharing your fears with other people will help to deflate the pressurized bubble where fear seems to thrive. Perhaps other people feel the same way, and when fears are shared, it can feel less lonely. There may not be a solution (yet) for dealing with our fears, but talking it out and sharing them is often a relief.
We can challenge them.
Here is where we must try to do exactly what it is that makes us afraid.
Are you afraid of flying? Book a very short trip and go for it. You may never love to fly, but with a few trips under your belt, your fear of flying may lessen a bit as it no longer keeps you from doing the things you want to do.
Most of us are afraid to speak in front of a group of people. Next opportunity, give a very short toast when it is completely unexpected. When there are no expectations, a toast can be simple, short, and sweet, while serving as means for us to practice overcoming our fear.
Whatever our fears are, we must work to confront them head on. We usually realize, with direct confrontation, that situations we think we are afraid of, aren’t quite as bad as they seem. When we can consistently prove to our self that we are stronger than our fears, we can mindfully chip away at them which works to improve our confidence. Often, our fears dwell mainly in our heads.
We can seek professional help.
Sometimes confronting our fears or discussing them with a family member or trusted friend is not enough. When we continue to be afraid, despite our best efforts work through it, our fear disables us from moving forward in life. A therapist can provide the help and some tools (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) we need to decipher the reasons behind our fears and ways to defeat or move past them enough to function normally.
We can develop a plan.
We can take some proactive steps to set in motion a specific plan for dealing with our fears. One of the biggest components to overcoming our fears is having the determination and will power to do so. Developing a plan to follow is essentially about coming up with directions for ourselves when it’s time to face them.
For example, our plan for a specific fear could include taking a deep breath, going outside for a quick lap around the neighborhood, calling a trusted friend, playing with our dog or simply setting it to the side in our minds, especially if it is something we have no control over.
When we can rationally think about why we are afraid, we can come to a conclusion about whether what we want (going on a trip, taking a chance, climbing to the ledge, etc.) should override our fear. Using a preferred mantra to talk our way through it works well too.
We can exercise.
Nothing clears the head like exercise. Especially if it’s done in the great outdoors. Running, walking, yoga, hiking, biking are all tremendous stress, anxiety, worry, and fear relievers. Exercise helps to reduce and release fears because we are expending energy on physical activity instead of obsessive mental activity. It calms our thoughts. Physical exhaustion works to relieve mental exhaustion.
Oftentimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves when we get caught up in a negative cycle of debilitating fear, is exercise. Endorphin’s work to rid the mind of fear in ways that therapy, talking about it, or breathing through it sometimes can not.
Instead of simply stating with resignation, “I’m afraid of this (insert fear),” and leaving it at that, we can proactively contest it so that we may move forward to enjoy our lives a bit more.
Conquering fears, or at least keeping them at bay, takes a good bit of time, effort, and successful, repetitious experience. There is no rush.
Substantial life improvement happens when we prepare ourselves mentally and physically to overcome our fears. If we can name them, we can share them. Then we can develop a plan and take steps to conquer them. And we can use exercise to dilute and relieve them.
Instead of accepting our fears, and simply living with them, and believing that there is nothing we can do about them, we can take our control (and thus our own happiness) back by taking action.
Author: Kimberly Valzania
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Stephanie Sicore/Flickr