Life is scary. For some, it is scarier than ever. Political refugees and asylum seekers, people running from wildfires, and terror victims seem more numerous than ever. Social and fake media fuel the fire of fear. In the face of all this, offering one more article about how to overcome your fears in life seems futile, but my passion is helping readers take better care, and if just one person benefits from what they read here, it will have been worth the effort.
A cynical hope
It’s easy to be overcome by fear, especially when so much of it parades through modern life. Paradoxically, it can also be fun: roller coasters and other thrill rides, scary movies, sneaking up on someone to shout “Boo!” at Halloween…all somewhat pleasantly brief journeys into the make-believe of imagination.
Thing is, our physiological response to both imagined and actual fear triggers is the same: racing heart, prickly skin, dilated eyes, blood rushing away from our extremities, panic, emotional and mental distress, shock. Our rational mind eventually sorts out whether the trigger was real or make-believe, but by that time our physiology has already primed us to fight, flee, or freeze.
Coming down from a fear event takes time. We breathe heavily, sit or lie down, try to allow some space to return to a more normal, less agitated state. The worldwide interest in how to do that – example modalities include yoga, intentional listening, breath work, Reiki, meditation – gives me a kind of cynical hope that Earthlings want better tools to respond to fear.
It can’t get any worse
We hear this too much these days, and why not? It sells. The media report bad news because of our morbid fascination with it as news consumers. Whatever your news feed might be, it’s designed to sell you what you want, stoke your fear, sap your potential for positive energy. That’s a vortex no one will survive. There will always be some new depth of depravity to tantalize us.
Yes: it can get worse. It will get as bad as it must to keep us coming back for more.
Until we don’t.
Overcoming our fears starts when we discover the difference between a genuine fear trigger and an imaginary one.
What’s real and what’s imaginary?
Don’t get me wrong: there are things we genuinely ought to fear. We also need to recognize that there is a spectrum of fear. Fear of not having resources after retirement motivates a response that includes saving, investing, and preparing wisely for a significant drop in daily activity and income. That’s a real fear, but it’s an entirely different real fear than facing a madman with a gun. And both of those fears are entirely different than watching a scary movie, where no harm will actually come to us as viewers.
Feeling the emotion of fear is unavoidable, so how do we deal with it?
When you have a practical response to things that scare you, noticing the actual, dangerous, scary triggers becomes easy. But it does take practice, and the practice of responding to fear is itself a scary thing.
A practice for fear
How do we practice responding to fear? By facing it. Starting with more benign but still triggering fears and working up to bigger more dangerous ones, we can train ourselves to bring a proper response to most scary situations.
This is why warriors train for combat. War is terrifying, but learning to respond in an automatic, useful way, the combat soldier can remain effective even though terrified. Over time, these responses are drilled into combat warriors so that, when the time comes, they can operate “by the book” regardless of how scary the situation might be.
Most of us won’t serve in military combat, but the analogy holds true in civilian life. Business leaders rise to the top of organizations because they have learned to respond powerfully to situations that would scare less-practiced workers. Entrepreneurs confidently launch new ideas and products because their experience with the nuances of doing so no longer frightens them away from taking calculated risks.
As you think about your life, you will realize that you have already mastered a number of fears. Growing up is scary, but each year of life brings with it practices that help us master fear. Parenting is scary, but getting a little practice at it allays lots of those pre-baby fears. Raising kids comes with a certain amount of fear that lessens as we begin to see our children come into bigger and better responsibility for themselves.
How do you practice a response to fear?
How-to for fear
There are practical ideas for overcoming your greatest fear here, here, and here. Each of those articles will help you begin a healthy practice around what scares you. Over time, that practice will help you change the energy around the fear. That is, instead of a “freeze” response, you will find you can meet a fear trigger with “fight” or “flee” as appropriate. (Yes: it is OK to run away from some fear triggers, like wildfires.)
Practice removes the immobilizing terror of a fear trigger and gives you options. As you practice with any specific fear, you will find that the fear energy can be put to good use, either to fight or flee.
If you’re from California or can recall the nuclear bomb threat drills in elementary school, do you remember those silly crawl-under-your-desk drills? The actual practice is about what to do in response to fear. Practicing this seemingly silly response is how we Californians teach ourselves to use the energy in fear for a good purpose. As ridiculous as it seems, practicing this response gives us a jump on the fear: we can do something useful in response, and that thing we do is much better than mass panic and hysteria.
Is this making any kind of sense to you? I sincerely hope so.
You aren’t alone
Practicing a response to fear is probably the last thing you want to do, but once you’re scared enough and realize that you must find a way to respond that doesn’t immobilize you, it will make sense. If you’ve just begun to notice that you do have options in the face of fear, welcome aboard. You aren’t alone. There are many of us who want practical responses to fear, anger, sadness, even joy. Reach out to us here.
How To Overcome Your Fears In Life