How To Overcome Your Fear Of …

Me trying to get over my fear of guinea pigs

The only way to overcome your fear is to face it.

I’m sorry, I wish I had a better answer for you. And by that I mean one that doesn’t make you go Damn it, I had a feeling she’d say that.

Now. Just to be clear, if you’re afraid of heights I’m not necessarily asking you to go skydiving, okay?

That approach may work for some, but for most people the experience would be too extreme and traumatizing. The worst case scenario would be that jumping out of a plane confirms or worsens your fear. You may never want to work on managing or eliminating your phobia ever again.

So the trick is to expose yourself to the scary activity or object a little bit at a time and in controlled settings, if possible.

 

During such experiences, notice the physical sensations of your fear and anxiety — your racing heart, breathlessness, sweating, dizziness, etc. — but simultaneously be aware that none of it will kill you.

This takes practice. Maybe lots of it.

(Again, this is where the “little bit at a time” in “controlled settings” thing comes in. Did ya see the photo of me and the guinea pig?)

After each exposure to the scary object or activity, it’s important to reflect on your level of anxiety and its physical symptoms. On a scale from 1-10, how severe were your symptoms? How long did they last? Do you think you could experience something like this again and come out of it okay?

By doing all of this, you will find that the severity of your symptoms and the length of time that they persist will decrease.

Ta-da!

Two years ago this was what I looked like at the beach: scared of the ocean, afraid of cold water, and self-conscious of my body. It took some work, but I've come a long way since then. (See video below of my 2012 New Year's Day Polar Bear dip -- I'm the tiny tan one in the teal swimsuit.)

WARNING: You may be tempted to use unhelpful coping strategies that serve as a temporary crutch rather than a fear-reducing long-term solution.

If you want get to the root of the problem, be careful not to get too dependent on unhelpful coping strategies such as avoidance, distractions, superstitious objects, safety signals, or alcohol and other substances and medications.

While these strategies may ease your anxiety symptoms at first, they do nothing to reduce the fear itself. In fact, once your crutch is taken away you will discover that your fear is just as debilitating as it always was.

How many of these unhelpful coping skills have you used?:

Avoidance
Do you avoid…

  • watching horror movies
  • airplane rides
  • your basement or attic
  • high buildings
  • any activity or place that reminds you of the thing that scares you

Distractions
While doing an activity that scares you, do you distract yourself with…

  • loud music
  • putting cold, wet towels on your face
  • telling someone who is with you to talk about something – anything!
  • keep as busy as possible
  • imagine yourself somewhere else
  • play counting games

Superstitious Objects and Safety Signals
In order to get through a scary situation, do you rely on…

  • “lucky” objects
  • smelling salts
  • food or drink
  • religious symbols

Alcohol & Other Fun Stuff
Do you have to get piss drunk, high, over-medicated, or knocked unconscious in order to “face your fear”?

Ever since that damn movie Blair Witch Project came out, I've been afraid of the woods. Still not over it. (Workin' on it.)

Here’s another thing you need to know: Excessive anxiety is caused and exacerbated by negative thoughts. These negative thoughts are a result of the following errors in thinking:

  • Jumping to conclusions about negative events (thinking that they are much more likely to happen than they really are)
  • Blowing things out of proportion (thinking that situations are insufferable or catastrophic when, in actuality, they are not)

It’s certainly possible to overcome your fears on your own, naturally, and without medication or unhelpful coping strategies.

But if you’re in need of a little extra help (especially if excessive anxiety has negatively effected your quality of life by standing in the way of your goals, or stopping you from enjoying certain activities), consider working with a trained therapist.

Whether you’ve got a full-fledged phobia, suffer from panic attacks, or just want to be less afraid of clowns (They’re so creepy, aren’t they?), therapists can coach you through anxiety-inducing situations, helping you to understand, evaluate, and reduce your fear. We use practical and effective exercises, and teach a step-by-step approach that people can eventually learn to use on their own.

Specifically, therapists can teach you:

  • How to record and evaluate the physical symptoms of your anxiety (and thus reduce them)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Evidence-based, realistic thinking strategies

Remember: Fear will not kill you.

Now go get ‘em!

I showed you mine, now you show me yours: What fear would YOU like to overcome?

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3 Responses to How To Overcome Your Fear Of …

  1. Pingback: Yes, We Can Travel The World | a brave life

  2. Sheryl says:

    To overcome your fears you have to face them … never have I heard something so true.

    I can be pretty avoidant of some situations that scare me, but I can definitely relate to the fact that avoiding the situation makes things worse.

    I used to be desperately afraid of making phone calls. As if, it would take me 30 minutes to talk myself up to call my mother – even when I knew she was expecting my call. On a good day. (Granted, further reflection says that maybe my fear of phone calls had something to do with the fact that I was dealing with some big scary financial stuff that took place largely over the phone, but I came out of it with a fear of phones.) So, being a lunatic like I am I decided that the best way to get over it would be force myself through it. Promptly employed myself as a telemarketer.

    Funny thing is, I hated that job. But not because I didn’t like the phone aspect, but more because I don’t really enjoy sales. That job lead to another one the next year, though, as a telefundraiser. That job? I loved it. In fact, working on the phone doing fundraising or customer service is now a big area I’m exploring in my job search.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Fear of phones! Hey, there are all kinds of phobias out there! But it’s interesting that you tied it back to being conditioned to fear them due to the association you made between phones and “big scary financial stuff”. In fact, the most common explanation for why phobias develop is exactly that type of conditioning. I’m glad that you were able to pinpoint what the problem truly was, and that this led you to new possibilities in your career — a well deserved reward for your courage!

      By the way, telephone fundraising? Hard work! Bless your soul.

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