Fear is one of the most powerful yet misunderstood emotions we have. While it may be uncomfortable, fear can be a warning sign. It prevents you from doing many things that could be dangerous for you — like holding your hand over an open flame or running a red light.
How to Not Get Lost in a Forest of Fear
Fear can also lurk when we’re in less dangerous situations. Examples could be a fear of flying, public speaking, or startup failure. Even though these situations don’t have life or death implications — they can still leave you with a genuine, fearful feeling.
Here’s the problem, though. Fear can lead to anxiety, which in turn can cause your heart to beat rapidly. It can make you feel weak, dizzy, or feel like you’re under the weather. Moreover, fear can make it difficult even to concentrate and can stop you from exploring new opportunities.
While you may not be able to completely eliminate fear, you can use strategies and solutions to deal with fear so that it doesn’t hold you back.
Call a time out.
When fear or anxiety has gotten the best of you, it’s sometimes impossible to focus on anything else. You may begin to “worst-case scenario think” (I call this awfulizing, you could have a racing heartbeat and sweaty palms –and a variety of many other all-consuming and distracting sensations.
Suppose you feel the “worst-case-blues,” call a timeout and find ways to alleviate the feelings. Going for a walk outside, do a few breathing exercises, or set aside a dedicated “worry” period. Each of these strategies can do wonders for your fears. If you are at work or giving a presentation — you can pull yourself into a daydream and think about being more powerful. If you’re at home — engage in a little self-care.
Whatever you choose to do, the idea is to find ways to clear your head and come back to homeostasis. Now that you’re calm, cool, and collected, you can rationally develop ways to fight your fears.
However, if you feel extremely overwhelmed, you might need to take a much longer break. It could be an hour to exercise or play video games. Or, you might just need to plan a vacation and put some distance between yourself and your day-to-day fears and anxieties.
Make a list of the things that you’re afraid to do.
“These are not things you are afraid of, such as spiders, but instead, the things you are afraid to do, such as skydiving,” suggests Jack Canfield.
“Your list might include things such as: leaving my job, going back to school, talking to my spouse about our relationship, asking for a raise, and so on.”
Got it? Awesome! I’ll give you a minute to compose your list…
Have you completed your list? If so, Canfield adds that you now must “restate each fear in the following format:
I want to ____, and I scare myself by imagining ____.”
As an example, “I want to start my own business, and I scare myself by imagining that I would go bankrupt and lose my house.”
Need another? How about this one;
“I want to talk to my husband about our relationship, and I scare myself by imagining that if he knew how I really felt and what I really wanted, he would leave me.”
“By completing this statement for all of the things we are afraid to do, you can see how you are the one creating your fears by imagining negative outcomes in the future,” he says.
Use the adrenaline.
“When you get anxious, you may have been told to take some deep breaths and find a quiet space to calm your nerves,” writes Albert Costill in a previous Calendar article. “The thing is, anxiety gives you adrenaline. So, instead of letting that stimulation go to waste, why not put it to good use?”
There’s actually research to back that claim up. Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School, calls this “anxiety reappraisal.” The main takeaway is that rather than taking the “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach, you should embrace “Get Amped and Don’t Screw Up.”
As explained in The Atlantic, this is “because anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions. In both, the heart beats faster, cortisol surges, and the body prepares for action. In other words, they’re ‘arousal congruent.”
The difference? “Excitement is a positive emotion‚ focused on all the ways something could go well.” In other words, Brooks says that it’s easier for you to get amped when you’re anxious.
So, let’s say that your fear of public speaking has rattled your nerves for an upcoming meeting presentation. “Instead of freaking out, just tell yourself how excited you are for the meeting,” advises Albert.
Use the “Law of Reversibility.”
“The Law of Reversibility says that ‘If you feel a certain way, you will act in a manner consistent with that feeling,’” explains Brian Tracy.
“But if you act in a manner consistent with that feeling, even if you don’t feel it, the Law of Reversibility will create the feeling that is consistent with your actions,” he adds.
Tracy says that this “is one of the greatest breakthroughs in success psychology.” The reason? “You develop the courage you desire by disciplining yourself repeatedly to do the thing you fear until that fear eventually disappears—and it will.”
In theory, being in control would cause you to be less afraid. But that’s not exactly true.
“Fear results in controlling behavior,” explains productivity and life coach Kirstin O´Donovan. “And when this behavior doesn’t give us the results we’re seeking (which is usually the case), it further intensifies our fears because the results are proof of the uncertain world that we’re so desperately trying to control.”
In turn, this “leads us to even more controlling behavior, adds O´Donovan. The fear and control cycle “can result in an obsession over the tiniest details and the loss of perspective on the bigger (and more meaningful) picture of what it is that you’re actually trying to achieve, as well as what you really need to do in order to achieve it.”
“In other words, it leads to misdirected focus and a waste of precious (and limited) resources,” she says. “Because of this, fear usually leads to a self-fulling prophecy; you end up bringing about the very things that you are so afraid of.” As such, you need to learn the art of surrender to let go of control.
Adopt a growth mindset.
“When you’re afraid, you tend to stay in one place,” writes Team Tony. “What if you make a mistake? What if you fail? You start to believe you can’t progress at all, that you’re incapable of it – the fear holds you back.”
How can you free yourself from these feelings? Adopt a growth mindset.
“It’s not about achieving your goals and being perfect every step of the way,” they add. “No one is ever perfect all the time, so stop striving for that. It’s about getting comfortable with what you don’t know and continuing anyway – this is the foundation of a growth mindset.”
“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow your progress, you’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.,” says Tony Robbins. That’s important to remember as you’re bound to experience trials and tribulations during your journey. But, so is growing and adapting.
Move out of your comfort zone.
We’re creatures of habit. And that can be beneficial. After all, this provides structure and certainty, which rescue anxiety and stress — it also makes planning a breeze.
At the same time, staying in our cozy comfort zones can put us in a slump. That’s why you should do one thing each day that scares you.
“When we experience new things, we create new neural pathways that kick start our creativity,” says best-selling author and organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich. “In addition to making us creative geniuses, new experiences enhance our memory.” And, “new situations trigger a unique part of our mid-brain that then releases dopamine, one of nature’s feel-good chemicals.”
Obviously, you want to start small. Maybe shake up your normal coffee order, take a different commute, or just start a conversation with a stranger. Whatever you chose, find ways to add a little discomfort to your daily routine.
Mindfulness is a proven way to help us feel calmer and more motivated. However, research also shows that it can also be used to help people unlearn fear responses.
If you’re new to meditation, the process is straightforward, states the people over at Headspace. “Simply sit and practice. All you have to do is close your eyes, stay focused on your breathing, and let your mind do its thing.”
Trivialize your fears.
How does psychologist Susan K. Perry overcome fear? Trivializing the task by thinking of yourself as playing.
It’s a really elementary technique. But, it’s effective. The reason being is that if something does go wrong, you can always try a new approach. Having this fresh perspective can make you realize that most of your daily decisions aren’t life-and-death situations.
Furthermore, play helps reduce stress, improve brain function, and stimulates creativity. Its also been found to improve relationships and boosts energy.
Don’t figure things out on your own.
Finally, if fear and anxiety interfere with your daily life, don’t hesitate to turn to your support system. Sharing these feelings with a friend a family member can actually take away a lot of the scariness. And, depending on the severity, you may want to make an appointment with someone who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Image: marcus murphy; pexels