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.
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?:
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
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”?
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!