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How To Overcome Fear

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It’s no secret that people fall prey to fear, and that fear, in turn, can limit our success in life. Most folks are goal-oriented, with both short- and long-term aims on the agenda. Unfortunately, anxiety frequently stands in the way of pursuing those goals wholeheartedly. Halfhearted attempts rarely get the job done, though, leaving some people unable to overcome fear and succeed in life.

Reasons for this are as innumerable as stars in the sky. Some of the most common is fear of rejection or humiliation or fears of people, places, and things we perceive might hurt us. Some even fear success, nervous that it might bring challenges or exposure they’re not ready to handle.

In short, fear can be deadly – at least to our idea of ourselves. If you’re struggling with doubt, jitters, or even panic in your life, and it’s starting to impact your goals, it’s time to pull up. Here’s a quick primer on how fear gets in the way and what you can do about it.

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.

Overcome fear Image with the words 'Overcome your fear'

Time to overcome.

How to Overcome Fear

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.
  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 them!

4 Most Common Fears

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 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: Woman curled upwith fear in a cardboard box with angry characters pointing

  • 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, 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

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 a fear of any animal, as you’re unlikely to avoid them forever.

Fear: The Final Word

Phobias are natural whether you fear success or struggle with a constant fear of rejection. However, with concerted effort, you can overcome fear and reach those goals you’re striving to reach!

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