How to Overcome Fear

3 steps to conquering the things that worry and scare you

Are you often fearful? Are you overcome with fear in situations where others do not seem to have the same concerns? Fear can be a paralyzing emotion. It can hold you back from experiencing life to its fullest, and leave you in a state of anxiety and worry. Even pondering how to overcome fear may bring up more fear and doubt. It is not, however, impossible to overcome it.

Step 1: Desensitize yourself to your fear

Desensitizing yourself to your fear means exposing yourself to situations where your fear may or will be realized. This process should occur in “baby steps.”

Begin by taking a look at what you fear and breaking it down into small sections. Attempting to face smaller portions of your fear, rather than jumping into your worst nightmare, allows you to ease into the experience. It might be beneficial to have someone with you as you slowly begin the process of desensitizing yourself.

Author and psychologist, Raymond Lloyd Richmond, PhD, suggests you first take the time to describe in as much detail as you can that which you fear. This enables you to break your phobia into sections to be addressed. Dr. Richmond also advises the use of relaxation skills and the need to pay attention to your anxiety level through the desensitization process. Checking in with yourself on your tolerance will enable you to gauge whether you can move forward or whether you need to stop.

Here's an example of how you might go about desensitizing yourself to the fear of flying. Airports and some airlines run a “desensitization” program for individuals who would like to overcome fear of travel by air. It may begin with simply driving by the airport, followed by parking and walking into the terminal. The next step would be to board and sit on a plane while it remains on the ground. Airlines would then have you return another time to sit on a plane as it taxis about the airport, followed by a short flight. With each small step in this desensitization process, you would find more courage and more control of the fear.

Step 2: Create a plan

Take inventory of the things you fear, and then make a plan as to how to overcome each fear. If you know you are going into a circumstance where fear and doubt crop up, you can make a list of ways to best handle the situation ahead of time.

In her book, Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, Marsha Linehan, PhD, outlines techniques for tolerating distressing situations. Some of her suggestions include becoming aware of and focusing on your body position or your breath; distracting yourself from the distressing emotion with different thoughts; soothing yourself with things that are pleasant to see, touch, hear, smell or taste; and finding humor in the situation.

Your plan to face a fear-inducing situation may include several techniques like deep breathing, focusing on something tangible and concrete (such as feeling your feet touching the ground or your back against the chair) or asking someone for support.

Step 3: Reflect on the source of your fear

As you think about those situations that bring up fear and doubt, you might also think about where that fear might have developed. Chances are your fear did not materialize overnight. It may have grown out of childhood tales, teachings or traumas. It might have developed following some other type of interference in your life. If you are able to assess the fear and find its root, you may be able to better see the path to overcoming it.

Author and one of the coordinators of the world’s first holistic conferences, Jeanne Segal, PhD, refers to “emotional intelligence” as learned behaviors from childhood that play out in relationships and daily functioning. Phobias are a learned emotional response. Tracing back to the source will provide you with a foundation for overcoming your fear.

With perspective, planning and reflection, you can overcome fear and take back control of your life.

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