Fear is a completely natural reaction—and is actually quite necessary for your survival. It keeps you away from high ledges, and stops you from walking into fast-moving traffic or running toward large wildlife. But sometimes (probably most of the time), our fears are fairly irrational (if not completely) and can hinder your life experience. Take stock of what triggers a fear response in you and test some ways you can overcome your fear—especially if it’s holding you back from enjoying life.
Why We Fear
People fear all sorts of things that don’t actually pose threats in their day-to-day life—some of it is based on evolution and instinct (think about how many people are scared of snakes, but have never actually interacted with one), some is based on past experiences (getting bitten by a dog at a young age could trigger a lifelong fear of dogs) and some fears are based on other people’s experiences, real or fiction (seeing a plane crash on the news or in a movie).
Figure Out What You’re Afraid Of
Think about your fear—what is it and what are you afraid will happen? Do you avoid elevators because you’re deathly afraid of getting stuck? Does your heart race when you cross a bridge because you think it may collapse any second? Do you feel light-headed when you experience turbulence because you’re convinced the plane is about to nose dive? Whatever your fear may be, locate it and acknowledge it.
Research Your Fear
Now that you’ve pinpointed your fear and the potential outcome you’re scared of, do some research and learn more about your fear. Feeling uncertain about something will only cause you to draw your own conclusions and create rationales that just might not be there. Read some statistics; find out—through actual data—if you’re fearful of something that is quite unlikely to happen.
It can be comforting to talk to others who share your same irrational fear—but this might only perpetuate your fear and make it stronger. Instead, buddy up with someone who doesn’t share your fear. For example, if your fear of flying is so strong that you’re struggling to even step onto a flight, make sure your next flight is with someone who feels calm and relaxed in the air. Their confidence and comfort may help you conquer your fear.
Change Your Self-Talk
You can be your own worst enemy and work yourself into a tizzy with your thoughts alone. It can be easy to let negative thoughts consume you, but you’re only making it worse. It can be really hard to change how you think—so fake it, ‘til you make it! If you become debilitated at the thought of boarding an elevator headed to the 59th floor, use self-talk to your advantage and rationalize with yourself. It is extremely rare to experience a life-threatening elevator accident, millions of people take elevators every day, there is only one known incident of an elevator free-falling because of a snapped cable, etc.
Think About Something Else
And if positive self-talk isn’t working—stop thinking about it altogether and distract yourself. If you freeze when you’re headed over a bridge, turn up the music and start to sing along. Engage in a conversation while walking through a big crowd, or pay attention to little details around you. While on a plane, opt in for the in-flight Wi-Fi or pull out a magazine. Then, once you arrive at your destination safely, congratulate yourself for how well you did!
When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened. – Winston Churchill