When I was a little girl, I used to pretend to be dead when left alone in a dark room. I reasoned that if a monster happened to stumble by, it won't be interested. All I had to do was lay really still with my eyes closed and hold my breath (or try to) until Mom or Dad returned.
My fright felt very real at a time and my strategy to deal with it seemed perfectly reasonable. You could even say it worked because no monster ever showed up to claim me :). Although if my parents found out, they might have tried to persuade me against my overactive imagination and my faulty theory.
As adults, we like to think that we are safe from irrational phobias because of our logic, but it's often not the case. Our minds can play tricks on us. Just try watching a scary movie and then walking down a dark alley with a hooded stranger. You'll at least have a fleeting thought.
Fears do follow us into adulthood. They are often persistent, deeply-rooted, and hidden. They cause us to subconsciously "play dead" in different situations and possibly miss opportunities to go after our dreams. They might keep us from experiencing deeper relationships, finding better-suited jobs, being ourselves around others. And what if we use our grown-up logic not to debunk them but to rationalize the need to hold on to these self-sabotaging beliefs?
We've all experienced worries, doubts, and unease that kept us from getting to the things we wanted or needed to do. George Addair even said: "Everything you've ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear." Wow... We need to get to that "other side". We can't let our fears dictate our future. Maybe the things that we are most afraid is what we need to target first because that's where our biggest growth happens and where our destiny lies.
So, let's go after these feelings and thoughts. Let's figure out how they sneaked into our lives and discuss some ways to get rid of them.
Before we start, I'd like to say that I'm not a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist (although I do deal with mental health on a daily basis as an ER nurse), and also this post is not meant to address clinical cases of phobias. I'm just sharing my personal insights in hopes that you can relate to some and find them helpful. You're free to disagree or add your own views in comments. I would actually love to hear what you think about this topic and how you dealt with these things in your own life. We're all on a journey, and this is what I discovered.
What is fear?
Oxford dictionary says that fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief. When there is a threat, something that might cause harm, we act in self-preservation. First comes the feeling or the thought, then our choice - to believe it or not, then action. Whether this danger is real or imagined, doesn't matter. Our bodies react in the same way. This response is natural in cases of danger, but living under a constant tension is harmful. We all heard about the dangers of prolonged stress.
Mental Health America recently released survey results, proving what we all could have guessed ourselves - we are increasingly more anxious, depressed, and stressed as a nation. This is understandable, given what is currently happening around us, and I hope people won't hesitate to reach out for professional help when they need it (please, see the links below). But let's also discuss what we can do on a daily basis.
How does fear come into our lives?
Did you know that we are all born pretty much fearless? The only two innate fears are of loud noises and sudden falls. Everything else is learned. But this fact gives me hope. If something is learned, it can also be unlearned. If something is brought into my life, it can also be taken out like I take out the garbage. It's not a permanent fixture. But when it comes to phobias, this process might be a bit more elaborate.
Our anxieties can be traced as far as early childhood. We acquire them through negative experiences or negative words of others that we heard for so long that they might seem part of who we are. They are not. These things actually prevent us from being our true selves. So, how do we identify them? Ask yourself these questions (pick a topic that you feel strong enough to tackle on your own):
What is one thing I am afraid of or feel anxious about?
When do I experience this fear or anxiety?
How do I feel during this situation?
What thoughts enter my head?
When was the first time I went through this?
What was the lie I believed about myself at that moment?
What truth could I replace it with?
It might take more digging to figure out what the main cause of a particular fear is, but if you're serious about gaining freedom from it, don't stop until you expose the whole root. Getting rid of the fruit or the branches won't last. It might take you weeks of asking questions, searching, getting the help of others, reading good books on the subject. But looking fear in the eye and naming it is the first step. Then start chipping at it little by little.
How can we overcome fear?
A few years ago we visited an adventure park in Mexico. As we were walking through it, my husband and kids decided to jump off the 25-meter Cliff of Courage into the lagoon, then insisted I do the same. Let me tell you something - I do not like heights. I am also scared of going under the water even though I grew up by the sea (the root of it was the near-drowning experience I had as a child). And even though I watched everyone else jump off that cliff with a life-jacket on without getting hurt, I was terrified anyway. I can still feel the adrenaline rush through my veins when I remember standing on the edge and gathering my runaway courage. My heart starts racing even now.
I am proud to say that I did it anyway (after some taunting and then bribing from hubby and kids :)). It felt good afterward. And if I face that cliff again in the future, it won't be so intimidating. But what if I had to jump off that cliff once a week? My heart probably wouldn't even skip a beat.
So, after you identify your fears and deal with their roots, the next step is to do what you're afraid of and do it so often that it no longer bothers you. You can't wish it away or reason it away. You cure the fear by action.
Let's take a more practical example. I hate public speaking. Going on a stage in front of a large group of people is terrifying for most people. When given a chance to do a presentation of any sort, I fret and sweat until it is over. Irrational thoughts try to attack me - you'll stumble and fall, you'll forget your words and will say something foolish, people will laugh at you, etc. How do I overcome it? I practice my speech over and over and over again until fear has to chance of messing up what I have to do. If I dig my heels and never force myself to step out of my comfort zone, I'd never deal with this particular phobia and it will only get stronger.
If I had to speak in front of crowds often, it would have eventually felt like eating a piece of cake. Well, maybe more like eating a cake on the edge of a cliff, but easier anyway.
Sir Winston Churchill said: "Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision." So make a decision today to attack a few of your fears. Plan it, prepare, give yourself the best chance of success, and go for it. Every time push yourself a little further. That's being brave.
How do we remain fearless?
Even if you take a few toxic plants out, it doesn't mean new weeds won't try to spring up in their place. You grow what you feed. Are you feeding fears and anxieties? Then stop. Ask yourself - what is the current source of my stressful feelings? Do what you can to eliminate it. Turn off the news or social media. Don't read the latest predictions. Don't pick up the phone when you-know-who calls again to dump their negativity on you. Take time off. Battle with your own thoughts - what consumes your mind will eventually control your actions.
Think of your heart as a garden. After you pull out the weeds, plant good things in their place, and protect them. Focus on what lifts you up, encourages, brings hope, fills your mind with positivity. It might take a lot of effort, but the rewards are greater. Would you like to have inner peace? Confidence? Freedom? It takes work.
As a Christian, when I start feeling anxious about something and catch myself dwelling in the uncertainties, I try to switch my focus to what God says about my life. I substitute my faulty thinking for His truth about who I am. If you would like to download a list of my Biblically-based proclamations that deal with fear and anxiety, you can get them here.
So, what are you scared of? Follow these steps to debunk your fears and start to live boldly:
Ask yourself why you're afraid and dig deep into the root. Is it a situation from the past or a lie that others put on you? Take some time to uncover the cause, then deal with it.
Make a list of what you'll gain by overcoming your fear and imagine yourself already living without them - how would it look like? Try to be specific.
Take small practical steps - write down the day, the time, and exactly what you'll do or say. Then go for it (put a reminder on your phone and just take that step when it alarms). Don't try to be perfect. Reward yourself for small progress. Try again.
Replace lies with the truth - read, watch, and listen to things that edify you.
Let's be fearless, live fully, and go bravely after our dreams. Robin Sharma said: "Being scared is part of being alive. Accept it. And walk through it."
Here are more helpful links on the topic. Let me know what your personal strategies are in the comments or share your experience of overcoming fear in your life.
If you need additional support, please, don't hesitate to reach out for professional help. Sometimes simply talking to someone and letting them know how you feel can be extremely helpful and put things in the right perspective:
Lifeline Crisis Center - 1-800-273-TALK
Crisis Text Line - text HOME to 741741, 85258, or 686868
Samaritans - call or text 1-877-870-HOPE
More helpful links on the topic: