Managing Fear

Fear comes in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. It can be debilitating, stopping you from living the life you really want…if you let it.

“The fears we don’t face become our limits.” — Robin Sharma

Some fears are outgrown, like the fear of the dark, for example. Some fears don’t really come into play and so don’t affect one’s quality of life. (I have a fear of snakes, but I don’t have any desire to go camping or visit a jungle anytime soon, so this fear doesn’t really impact my life.) Some fears, however, plague people for a lifetime and keep them from living the life they really want. I’m talking about fears like traveling, failure, public speaking, dating…fears that have the potential to create limits in a person’s life if not faced and managed.

Depending on the intensity and impact of the fear, professional therapy may be the best solution. However, some fears can be managed with one or more of the following:

  • Coping strategies. These are activities that are calming or distracting, allowing you to work through the feelings of fear. Strategies include deep breathing, counting backwards, calling a friend, journaling, going for a walk, or listening to music.
  • Worst case scenario and probability (rationalizing). Let yourself think about the worst possible outcome from facing your particular fear, but then also rationally state the chances of that outcome happening. For example, the worst case scenario for someone who fears taking tests may be that they will fail the test, fail out of college, and spend the rest of their life living with their parents. Could it happen? I guess. Is it probable? No.
  • Eyes on the prize. Sometimes the pleasant end result of facing your fear is great enough to get you through it. My best example of this is giving birth. Afraid of the delivery? Very much. Response to picturing baby in your arms? Bring it on!
  • Gradual exposure. This is the step by step approach to facing your fear. Start with the first baby step. So if you fear dogs, start by watching videos of dogs. The next step might be to visualize petting a dog and imagine what your emotional response would feel like. The next step could be petting a trained dog (like a therapy or service dog, with permission). The steps keep progressing until you feel you’ve achieved manageability of your fear. This doesn’t mean you’re ever going to love the thing you fear, dogs in this example, but that you can manage the fear enough that it doesn’t hinder your enjoyment of life.

“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” –German proverb

Whichever way you choose to manage your fear, the first step is to acknowledge the fear. If you don’t ever acknowledge it or face it, then it continues to grow and looms large over your life. Next, decide that YOU are in the driver’s seat of your life. You control your fear; it doesn’t control you. Every time you face your fear head on, it loses some of its power over you and you gain more evidence that you are capable of managing your fear. Be patient with yourself. Don’t give up. You CAN do this.

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