Fear is a natural human response to physical and emotional danger. For our early human forefathers, fear was crucial to kick-start a powerful response to physical danger. Although we don’t face the same kinds of physical threats today, we still need to feel fear when it comes to modern worries such as financial trouble, public speaking and relationship problems, so as to respond to these situations and protect ourselves from their consequences.
Sometimes, however, we end up fearing irrationally and this prevents us from living our lives normally. Fearing social gatherings, or exams, or maybe the idea of dating after a bad break-up – all of these may hinder our ability to live out our day to day lives fully. Such fear and anxiety may even have mental and physical health repercussions on our bodies as well as affecting our appetite, ability to focus and sleep, among other things. The physical feelings of fear in themselves can be scary – the heart racing, sweating, dizziness and nausea can feel overwhelming. As such, it is important to try to confront our fears, especially the irrational or extreme ones, instead of avoiding them and enabling them to grow. Every time we confront our fear, we gain confidence in our ability to cope and our fear loses some of its its strength and power over us.
But how do we even begin to start facing our fears in a healthy way? Here’s a four-step process of identifying your fears, taking action, facing your fears and, finally, maintaining momentum that you can apply to getting over your own fears:
Step 1: Identify your fear(s), and do so specifically. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, are you afraid of speaking in front of a particular group (e.g. work superiors), or on a particular topic (e.g. something you are less familiar with)? Try to tease out exactly what scares you and this will make the job of taking action easier.
Step 2: Take action. Take small steps towards building confidence. In the case of public speaking, that might involve practicing in front of people you feel more comfortable around or joining a Toastmaster’s class to learn about public speaking and engagement more formally. The more you avoid confronting your fear, the more it will likely grow.
Step 3: Face your fears. So, you’ve been trying to build confidence for a while. When you feel confident enough, expose yourself to the situation that scares you. To continue with our public speaking example, you can accept the next opportunity to speak in front of a small group. Gradually exposing yourself to your fears can be an effective way of overcoming the fear and anxiety.
Step 4: Maintain the momentum. Continue building confidence by exposing yourself to the situation that scares you in a methodological and consistent manner as discussed here.
If you feel that your fear is unmanageable on your own even after trying, there are other avenues for help such as talking therapies, support groups and medication. You can discuss these with a health care professional.
Here’s hoping that you can take on your fears, step by step. Happy new year!