We all have things in our lives that we fear.
Fear of death.
Fear of heights.
Fear of spiders.
Fear of clowns.
Fear of speaking in front of others.
Fear of lists of things we fear. (Sorry.)
Some fears could be regarded as rational (physical confrontation, heights, etc.) and others less so, but even those fears that could be labelled as irrational (fear of buttons, balloons, beards, etc.) remain just as real to the person affected and can trigger the same neuro-physiological responses.
The body still perceives the threat, whether it is genuine or not.
With a few small exceptions, we all encounter situations that provoke a feeling of fear at some point in our lives and we all feel fear to one extent or other. It’s perfectly natural and is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
Fear is merely an emotional and physiological response to a perceived threat, which activates our fight-or-flight response and releases a surge of stress hormones into the bloodstream.
It’s an evolutionary thing that increases the heart rate and gets blood to the major muscle groups in preparation for defending yourself or legging it the Hell out of whever you happen to be.
Back when we were hunter-gathers, this was a really useful response to help your chances of survival when faced with the threat of a, T-Rex, tiger, or some other predator.
These days, it’s rare that we are faced with genuinely life-threatening situations and the response is more likely to be triggered by an altercation with another person, speaking or performing in front of a large audience or upon hearing some sudden and shocking news.
Often, the fear is of things that haven’t even happened or maybe never even will happen and is probably more accurately termed ‘anxiety’.
From an evolutionary point of view, fear is designed to keep us safe and out of danger, but in modern life, it can cause a lot of unnecessary problems and stress in our lives and prevent us from functioning at our best in our work and social lives.
One of the worst things about fear is that it can get you in a cycle of worrying about what you might lose, rather than the thinking about all the things there are to gain.
Thankfully, most fears can be overcome, or at least diminished, using some simple techniques. We take a look at some of the best right here . . .
1. Talk about it
They say that a problem shared is a problem halved and you can apply the same principle to fear.
Talking about what scares you with others and discussing it can really help you to put your fears into context and into perspective. Perhaps your friends also have similar fears? And knowing that you are not alone can be a source comfort and help you to face them.
In many instances, talking about it will make you realise that the only thing there is to fear is fear itself! (Thank you, FDR.)
2. Face your fears
Fear can be paralyzing, yes.
But sometimes, biting the bullet and confronting those fears head on can be the quickest way to overcome them. The situation you imagine in your head may actually turn out to be nothing like the way the situation unfolds in reality and we can easily fool ourselves into fearing a situation that presents us with no real danger or consequences.
Take public speaking, for example. Being a more introverted person myself, standing up and delivering a talk in front of a group of people is not something that excites me. In fact, I used to get an almost paralysing fear every time I would ever have to speak in public.
Being the Best Man at my friend’s wedding, whilst being an honour, was excruciating for me. But I got through it and while it wasn’t the best of speeches and wasn’t delivered in the way I would have liked, it wasn’t that bad either and there was no threat to my survival. (No beer bottles thrown at me or anything like that!)
It wasn’t until I took a job that required me to deliver presentations on a regular basis that I overcame my fear of talking in public. Years later, it is still not something I relish, but it does not cause me much anxiety any more. Perhaps a few butterflies in the stomach right before I start, but nothing that makes it impossible to get through.
Facing your fears will make those fears become weaker and when you realise that you are stronger than your fears, you can do anything!
This was actually something I learned in sales training and from my time in competitive sport. Visualization is a technique used by professional athletes and speakers everywhere. It’s about rehearsing an event in your head and making that event have a positive outcome. Repeating this process enough is similar to performing the event in real life and there is scientific evidence behind this too.
You can also combine the visualisation with a movement or a gesture, which helps you to activate it during the real-life event.
For example, if you squeeze your thumb every time you visualize yourself delivering a kick-ass speech, when it comes to delivering that speech in real life, the action of squeezing your thumb is associated with delivering a great speech in your mind. This will help you to activate the same state of mind you had when you were using visualisation to deliver your perfect speech and will help you do the same in reality.
Visualization can be used for facing all kinds of fears and tricking your mind into reacting in a way that helps you, rather than paralyses you.
Try it – it really works! You can watch some great videos on visualisation here.
Deep breathing can help to activate the body’s relaxation response and counteract the fight-or-flight response.
Learning and practising some deep-breathing techniques when you are under stress can quickly bring everything back into focus and help you gain control of the situation – or at least how you feel about it.
If you want to go a step further, you can look at regular meditation and perhaps mindfulness. This will help with both breathing and a day-to-day general feeling of well-being.
5. Reward yourself
A few times a day, you should acknowledge that you are doing ok. According to some psychologists, because of our survival instincts, humans are hard-wired to constantly feel unsettled and fearful, so that we don’t let our guard down.
However, we’re no longer in an environment where we need to be worried about being eaten by predators and where bad things happening are always imminent, so we need to learn to unlearn these evolutionary left-overs and remind ourselves, that by and large, we’re safe and we’re doing ok.
6. Take time out
Distraction can be a good way to handle fear. While it does not deal with the root cause of the problem, it can help you get through whatever it is you’re doing at the time.
Going for a run, playing with the dog, chatting with a friend or reading a book are ways of turning of the fear button and will give you a chance to regroup and ‘live to fight another day’.
7. Find the root of your fear
Distractions can be a short-term fix for dealing with fear, but if you can figure out the root of your fear, it will give you the opportunity to look at things objectively and rationally and perhaps realise that the fears are not based on anything substantial and are, in fact, all down to your imagination!
Facing and overcoming your fears using any of the above techniques can help you become more confident and enjoy some of the things in life without a cloud of fear and dread hanging over you all the time.
How do you cope with fear?