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Helping Elders: Overcoming Fear in Senior Years

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As we grow older, it’s understandable to sometimes fall prey to fear and anxiety. These feelings can limit our ability to pursue new relationships, activities, or goals in our golden years.

While apprehension is normal, we must not let it hinder our dreams. With wisdom and experience on our side, we seniors have the inner strength to overcome doubts that arise.

Overcoming fear in seniors may reveal that we fear rejection, failure, or looking foolish when putting ourselves out there. However, with thoughtful courage, we can move forward calmly and confidently.

Progress may seem small at first, but each step chips away at the power fear tries to hold. In time, we can regain control and see attempts through to achievement.

Have faith in all the beautiful things life still has in store at this stage. And know that with the right frame of mind, no fear can stop a determined senior’s goals for long.

Overcoming Fear in Senior Years

What Is Fear?

Merriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger,” or variably as “anxious concern” or “reason for alarm.” Fear can manifest in many degrees, running from apprehension to pure terror. Fear arises from the amygdala, a region of the brain predominantly associated with emotional processes.

There are sound biological reasons for that fact. Back in our hunter-gatherer days, fear was a critical emotion. It could save your life, kicking you into high gear as you run from a saber-toothed cat. It could help feed you, jacking up your adrenaline levels and sharpening your focus, so your spear brought down the mammoth.

And it could keep you connected to the group, just fearful enough of what others thought to respect elders and taboos. This was important because you’d likely die from hunger and cold if you got exiled in the Ice Age.

Today, fear is usually overblown. Yes, some areas experience war and famine, and a random violent tragedy occurs everywhere. But for most people, life-threatening situations are not a daily occurrence. For example:

  • Getting on an airplane feels stressful, but your chances of survival are astronomically high.
  • Stepping into an elevator and realizing your boss is there can make you break out in a cold sweat, but your boss is almost certainly not going to kill you.
  • Messing up the first date will not get you banished from your entire social group, and it certainly won’t result in your starvation.

Yet, these situations can feel deadly. It’s hard to separate what the feeling brain tells you from what the thinking brain knows is true. And that’s a problem.

Why? Well, perhaps your work requires you to travel, and if you refuse, you’ll lose your job. Typically chatting with your boss is expected of you; moreover, you might need a friendly relationship in place if you ever want to ask for that unoffered raise. And if you can’t bring yourself to go on a first date, you certainly won’t have another.

Time to overcome.

Overcoming Fear in Senior

This is easier said than done, of course. The very nature of fear is that it is frequently irrational. Again, there are situations in which you should be afraid: dark alleys, war zones. But most of us stay far away from such places, meaning the vast majority of our anxieties are unfounded and decidedly unhelpful.

It’s essential to recognize that the fear is the problem, not the situation. Nevertheless, you can’t simply tell your brain “it’s fine!” and expect it simply to overcome fear. It won’t. You first need to understand the nature of fear and then approach it in a structured, intentional way. Here are the basic steps:

  1. First, it’s essential to understand the difference between fear and phobia. Most of us have phobias rather than real fears. A helpful distinction is that “Fear is a normal reaction to a threat while a phobia leads to a fear response even when you’re not in danger.”
  2. Assuming your fear is a phobia, you are not in danger and can overcome it. If your phobias are debilitating and you truly cannot function in the triggering situations, enlist the help of a counselor, or at least speak with a friend and air out your feelings. Often naming the problem will do much to reduce the fear and help in overcoming fear in mature adults.
  3. If, on the other hand, you get anxious in situations, you can begin to push back against those feelings on your own through exposure therapy. That is the simple act of being around the daunting stimulus to teach your brain that it will not actually kill you. Because your brain’s job is to keep you alive against all threats, real and perceived, this will take time. But as you climb on airplanes or talk to your boss over and over, your subconscious will eventually learn that you’re not going to die.
  4. Approach situations slowly. If your terror of airplanes leads to panic attacks and you can’t get on board, begin by driving to the airport. Suppose you want to talk to your boss and can’t deliberately walk past his office on the way to the coffee maker. Build up your tolerance as slowly as you need to. The important part is that you are exposing yourself consistently to what frightens you.
  5. Once you no longer feel terrified of situations that used to fill you with anxiety, keep doing them. If you stop talking to your superiors, you’ll likely begin to fear them again.

Here are four of the most common phobias and ways to overcome them. These techniques are not limited to these specific anxieties, either. If you suffer from other types of fear, feel free to cross-apply the overcoming fear in mature adults technique!

4 Most Common Fears to Overcome in Seniors

Fear of Rejection

As discussed, we are hardwired to fear rejection. From millions to tens of thousands of years ago, Stone Age peoples relied heavily on one another.

Without a central gathering space to share food and stay warm, you were likely to perish during long winters. As such, angering an elder or a family member was a very dangerous thing to do.

Today, rejection is the anxiety we all share, and it feels nearly as difficult now as it did then. But it’s not. Remember that it happens to everyone and isn’t a permanent state. Even if something devastating happens – a good friend stops returning calls or a partner leaves you for someone else – you can overcome this.

The first thing to do when overcoming fear in mature adults is validate your feelings, then look for your part in it; if you can change for next time, great.

If not, then you did nothing wrong. Unless you have uncovered a severe character defect, try not to change how you engage with other people. Over time, you will begin to have faith in others once more.

Fear of Your Success

There are many reasons you might fear success:

  • It inevitably means leaving some people behind
  • More will be expected of you
  • You will experience a more significant share of the spotlight
  • You’ll get more criticism
  • You may struggle to handle the stress of doing well

If you fear success, you must recognize it and face that fear. Don’t self-sabotage. Don’t avoid challenges. Don’t slink away when someone offers you a promotion. Face it head-on and shine.

Fear of Public Speaking

If you fear speaking in front of others, join the club: “glossophobia” affects more than three-quarters of the population to some degree. It is closely related to the fear of rejection. Will we still be part of the group if we mess up or embarrass ourselves? Will we still find success and love?

Your brain tells you no, but of course, that’s not true. Even a considerable gaffe is unlikely to haunt you forever. Unfortunately, as with the fear of flying, the only thing that will get you over the fear of public speaking is to do it.

Start by looking for small opportunities when overcoming fear in senior, like giving a presentation for your team. Practice in front of your family before you go to work. Once you succeed, ask for more significant assignments, work at trade shows and build up. You’ll get there.

Fear of Reptiles, Arachnids, or Insects: Overcoming Fear in Mature Adults

Some people fear spiders, centipedes, snakes, or even large predators. If these fears make you afraid to enter certain situations, that can impact your life. And if your phobia causes you to act in ways, you find limiting or embarrassing. It’s time to do something about it.

A debilitating phobia will usually require a counselor to guide you through exposure therapy. However, if your fear is more manageable, you can look at pictures online and begin to change your view of spiders.

Find minor attributes you’re okay with. “Their furry legs are kind of cute” or “they eat flies” will do at first. Build up your appreciation for spiders until they’re no longer a source of concern.

This is the best way to overcome fear in seniors related to any animal, as it is unlikely that you can avoid them forever.

The Final Word on Overcoming Fear in Mature Adults

As mature adults, it’s only natural we sometimes let doubts or anxieties hold us back, even in romance. We may fear both rejection and acceptance – worrying we aren’t enough or that new love might change a comfortable life.

Yet I assure you, the rewards of overcoming such phobias outweigh the fretting they cause. With wise self-reflection and courage, seniors can conquer long-held fears to find fulfilling relationships.

Progress takes patience and faith, but you have these in spades. Focus on communicating openly about your concerns. Take small steps forward before leaping. Most importantly, know you deserve to feel cherished and connected.

With relentless hope, seniors can defeat those phobias blocking the love we all seek. Have confidence and trust in what a little bravery could bring into your life now.

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