Have you ever felt absolutely terrified of something? I know I sure have...a number of things, in fact. Fear can feel heavy, restrictive and exhausting. Consider how much energy that goes into avoiding something you're scared of, worrying about that same thing, having nightmares about it, etc. Wouldn't it be lovely to be free of fear's shackles? You certainly can be and I can tell you how!
I need to be clear here: Fear has a place in our world. I see there being 2 levels of fear:
- Intuition or gut-feeling - This may be a feeling of fear or of certainty/knowing. That gut-feeling is a gift, a vital survival mechanism.
- If you are in danger, many times your intuition or gut will let you know with an uneasy feeling of being followed or watched. This type of fear, we should still pay attention to. To learn more about this, please consider reading the book: "Gift of Fear".
- Other times, you will simply feel comfortable with something because it feels right in your gut. We still need to keep connected to our intuition and gut-feelings to navigate our lives and stay true to ourselves.
- Anxiety - To me, anxiety is worrying about the future or about a situation that is not in the present. Feeling anxious can drain you of energy. I believe that we need less of this fear in our lives.
A great example of a severe anxiety that I experienced was my snake phobia (click here to read all about it). First, we don't really even have snakes (aside from garter snakes) in this part of Alberta. Second, I had only had a few interactions with snakes in my life, but one experience had startled me (I nearly walked directly into a snake that was around a person's shoulders) and I avoided snakes from that point forward at all costs. The result of that was that my anxiety grew exponentially from there. If I was reading a magazine and flipped to a page with a picture of a snake, everything within a 3 foot radius of my limbs would end up flying. I think about all of the weeks, days, hours and minutes which were wasted on worrying about snakes, stressing about snakes and avoiding snakes. That is time out of my life that I'll never get back; all that energy wasted with no benefit or value.
Wouldn't that energy be better spent elsewhere in your life? Hell yeah! That wasted energy could be put towards making time for the people, experiences and things that mean most to you rather than wasted on worry.
Why would you want to overcome a fear? Perhaps because that fear is holding you back from doing something that deep down you'd really like to do. Maybe your fear limits you in your life. Perhaps you really want to move forward in an area, but stay where you are out of fear. Maybe you want your fear to have less control over your life.
If you want to overcome a fear in your life, here's what doesn't work:
- I've tried avoiding, ignoring, denying, running from and wishing them gone. Sure, this may work temporarily. I've gone to extremes (e.g., making myself too busy, completely avoiding, numbing with shopping, numbing with alcohol, lying to myself) to avoid facing things that I feared. The problem with this is that typically, the problem doesn't go away and it may actually amplify your fear. Eventually, the things you avoid and run from catch up with you. You can't hide forever.
Here is what does work :
- Face your fear head-on. I'm serious. Whoa! Please don't stop reading now that you've made it this far! I'm going to show you how you can do this.
- Have you ever heard the saying "if you fall off your bike, you dust yourself off and climb back on to try again". This is how overcoming fears work. If you don't "get back on", you are giving them power and control over you and your life...only if you let them.
The ONLY way that I've ever moved forward and felt freedom from something I fear is to put my big-girl panties on and face it. Wanna know what happens when you do this? It creates an amazing shift inside of you as that fear is being kicked to the curb. At first, it is scary, maybe even terrifying. Then as you start to realize that it isn't so bad, it feels powerful, freeing and wonderful!
Does this mean that you have to run right up to that thing that you fear without any thought or pre-planning? Well no, I wouldn't suggest that exactly!
I suggest taking baby steps. Allow yourself to experience a taste of it and then step back to allow your mind, body and nerves to process that experience. Then once you've caught your breath, you can step forward to the next experience. This allows you to taste-test, to stumble, to fall, to get up and dust yourself off, to step forward in manageable steps. It's normal to feel anxious and to want to run and hide and it's also normal to start to feel more confidence with each tiny, baby step that you take forward into that fear.
Here's what has worked for me and can do the same for you:
- Research the ba-jebus out of it! Knowledge is power. Look for factual, educational content on the topic that you fear. In my case, I found Youtube videos on snake handling, snakes 101, aggressive snake handling, etc. I looked for videos that were informative, not ones that were trying scare people or to highlight the scariest snake bites, etc. I focused on understanding the animal rather than all of the hyped-up garbage out there that already gave me nightmares.
- Expose yourself to the thing you fear. This may require baby steps. If so:
- Identify a first step that is uncomfortable, but bearable...take that first step and sit with it. Make it a safe first step in a safe environment where you don't feel too vulnerable, if possible. I mean, in the comfort of your own home or with a trusted friend or family member who won't judge or criticize, but will support you as you take your first step. Repeat that same step until you feel bored with it. Once you are bored, celebrate your tiny victory!
- Next step up to the next level of discomfort and repeat.
- Treat yourself after, if you must but endure the discomfort, the fear, the tears, the jumpiness...whatever comes with it. You must do the work to move forward and grow.
- Be kind & patient with yourself and celebrate each tiny victory. Acknowledge that you are doing the best that you can with what you have right now. You are right where you are supposed to be in life. Most importantly, don't give up on yourself; believe that you can do it.
With every fear I've faced head-on, it's power and control over me has been reduced. Additionally, I've gained knowledge, power, pride and freedom. You can have that too!