With Halloween just around the corner, we wanted to explore the topic of fear, what fear is, and why we feel afraid. Fear can keep us safe, but it can also keep us from living life to its fullest. However, overcoming fear is possible. If you deal with situations that cause you to feel afraid, you will find strategies to deal with them in this article. Discover here the cause of this emotion and what prevents us from overcoming it. In addition, we will give you twenty tips to overcome fear.
What is Fear?
What is fear? Fear is a basic emotion that is meant to warn us of imminent risk or danger. It overcomes us so that we do not ignore nearby threats. Have you ever been paralyzed by a situation that terrifies you? Have you been so panicky that you ran away before thinking about the consequences? In many situations, this is the most logical way to react.
But it is necessary to differentiate fear from symptoms of anxiety. The first concept appears in relation to a specific and imminent event—like a stranger who seems to follow us on an empty street. On the other hand, anxiety is a more vague and nonspecific emotion that arises when we think of less well-defined circumstances. One example of this is the dread we feel when we think about our professional future or when people criticize us.
Fear is an adaptive reaction to dangers of a physical or psychological nature. However, it does not always occur in the face of real difficulty. Sometimes it can be due to certain cognitive biases. The intensity of fear can vary from the absolute lack of alarm to a state of complete panic. In fact, this emotion can turn into an absolute nightmare.
When does fear turn into a phobia?
When fear of a specific stimulus is excessive or disproportionate, it can become a phobia. A phobia is a psychological disorder, while fear is a common and healthy emotion.
There are many different phobias; fear of heights or clowns, fear of getting old or dying, and many more. Although the source that leads to these reactions changes, they all worsen the well-being of people who suffer from these disorders, seriously interfering in some or all areas of their lives. Can you imagine being so afraid of going out on the street that you feel compelled to live locked up at home?
It is not necessary to have a phobia for fear to diminish our well-being. These psychological disorders can make it difficult for us to perform even the most basic everyday tasks. In this article, you will find recommendations to overcome fear regardless of your level of terror and the object of your fears.
Why do we feel fear?
Fear is an emotion common to all of us; it accompanies us in each life cycle phase. It forces us to react quickly and protect ourselves from any danger. Noticing a high physiological activation that pressures us to fight or flee when we climb a rocky cliff that is just a little too high is tremendously adaptive. It motivates us to survive.
Two main theories explain how we acquire fears. The first, classical conditioning, states that if we associate elements (snakes, high places, etc.) with harmful events (injuries, anxiety, etc.), we will establish an association between both stimuli and acquire a conditioned response of fear.
On the other hand, according to Bandura’s theory of social learning, we learn through vicarious learning. That is, after observing certain models (the neighbor, an actor, etc.), we internalize their behavior and imitate it. If we witness a wasp sting our little brother one day and we look at his panic reaction, every time we see that annoying insect, we may flee in terror. According to this theory, we are active when deciding whether we want to adopt certain behaviors or not, although it is not always easy.
Fear also causes us positive feelings. We like to have our heart rate increase, feel the tension in the air, stay stuck to the edge of our seats, and scream when we watch a horror movie from the comfort of the sofa or when we get on a roller coaster. In fact, we seek these feelings when we trust that we will maintain our security.
We need to learn to manage this emotion from childhood. Still, you can start to fear certain stimuli at any age. On the other hand, some people are more likely to feel this emotion than others. Likewise, our past experiences are fundamental when it comes to explaining how we deal with reality. Regardless of our case, the main thing is that we know that it is never too late to overcome fear.
20 tips to overcome fear
Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash
In this section, we will give you twenty recommendations that you can easily apply to your routine. The most important thing is that you trust that fear is within us; nothing and no one can force us to feel it. This may be difficult to think about when faced with an all-important test, but we are responsible for our own personal growth. Overcoming fear is possible with a bit of planning and willpower.
1. Don’t try to ignore all your fears
As we have previously commented, fear is a gift that favors our survival. We can also observe it in animals when faced with serious risks. Fortunately, our body alerts us when a threat is approaching. Can you imagine not being upset if you saw a tiger in your living room? Learning to live with this emotion is essential. As much as fear plays tricks on us, we must be grateful for it from time to time.
2. Know yourself
Self-evaluation increases our well-being. It allows us to understand elementary aspects of what we feel or how we want to be in order to act accordingly. It is not necessary for us to obsessively explore what the root of our fear of snakes was. But defining the stimuli that cause us unpleasant reactions will help us devise effective strategies to deal with them appropriately in the future.
3. Acknowledge your fear
You are human. Acting as if your fear doesn’t exist is highly counterproductive. It does not make you any less strong for feeling this emotion. It does not matter if the object of your fear is unusual or embarrassing you, it is sure to be understandable, and there are people who can support you. Our fear will not just disappear, no matter how much we ignore it. Accepting it is the first step to overcoming it.
4. Rationalize your fears
The fear of fire is perfectly understandable if we are facing a fire. However, it would be acting illogically if we think that the house may burn every time we turn on the stove. Thinking about the probabilities of these events occurring and acting accordingly will allow us to get away from unpleasant cognitive processes.
5. Observe how other people deal with their fears
There are relatively frequent fears such as fear of fire or seeing blood. But, it does not matter if what causes your panic reactions are not common. While there may be differences in intensity, the emotion of fear produces a similar feeling in all of us. Observing how people can coexist with this emotion and face it is beneficial for us.
6. Take care of your self-esteem
Some fears, like the fear of interacting with others, can be tremendously frustrating for the people who have to deal with them. This difficulty can negatively affect their self-esteem and generate thoughts such as “I am a failure and incompetent” or “no one is going to love a softie like me.” In fact, it can cause cognitive biases that make life bitter, making us uneasy at the slightest trifle.
Sometimes these beliefs about oneself are the cause of deep discomfort that can trigger serious psychological problems. Fears are not incompatible with self-esteem. We must bear in mind that anyone can be afraid, that we are human, and that we are competent enough to find the best solution to any adversity.
7. Take care of yourself
Obviously, pampering our mental and physical health will positively impact all areas of our lives. Adopting healthy habits will allow us to feel great and increase our self-efficacy (as long as we do not become overly obsessed with working out or losing weight). But a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, which can be better at dealing with stress and anxiety from fear.
8. Don’t avoid the object of your fear
If we do not take a plane out of fear of flying or never try anything new because we are terrified of failure, we chain ourselves to a mediocre life. We will be unnecessarily self-restricting ourselves. Simply thinking about getting close to what distresses you may cause you powerful uneasiness. Avoidance is probably satisfying for you in the short term, but it only maintains these reactions. It is essential that you face your fears.
9. Try relaxation techniques
When this emotion paralyzes us, and we feel an irrepressible urge to flee, we can use techniques to stay calm, such as breathing exercises or counting slowly until we feel better. In this way, we will reduce the symptoms of fear and distract ourselves from negative thoughts.
10. Set yourself little challenges
Overcoming fear takes time and progressive effort. We can start by imagining the conjunctures that scare us. For example, if playing sports scares you, you can begin by imagining yourself bouncing a ball. Visualizing yourself performing a behavior that produces tension will allow you to gain confidence.
It may be difficult at first, but you will increasingly be able to see yourself performing that action in practice. This is the basis of exposure therapies, which gradually present stimuli that can provoke fear reactions to the patient so that they can learn to control their emotions. For example, a person who has a problem with snakes may begin by looking at a picture of a small snake until they find themselves next to a king cobra.
11. Don’t face your worst fear directly
It is admirable that you decide to overcome fear, but it is not advisable to do it abruptly. Exposure to fear requires a progressive approach and is often professionally guided. In situations such as touching a tarantula or singing on stage in front of a thousand people, the abrupt confrontation with fear can be counterproductive and trigger adverse reactions.
12. Stay motivated
Focus on the rewards that overcoming fear will bring you. For example, if you are afraid of cars, reflect on how pleasant it must be to take a long trip without depending on someone else and how wonderful it would be to take an excursion you have always wanted. It isn’t easy to concentrate on this when sitting in the car. But if we think about the prize, we will not imagine catastrophes or get distracted by other negative thoughts.
13. Reward yourself for your progress
Imagine that you are deeply overwhelmed by elevators, and you dislike the thought that you may get stuck or the elevator may fall while you are inside. The day you get on one without getting upset, you deserve to treat yourself. You choose if you prefer to buy yourself a bag of jelly beans or go to the movies. The important thing is that you recognize your merits and keep the desire to keep moving forward.
14. Record your progress
Keeping a record of your evolution will allow you to look at your notebook every time your mood declines, whether due to a situation that has caused you fear or due to any circumstance. It will allow you to feel proud of your progress and raise your self-efficacy. Progress in overcoming fear is not always linear; there may be relapses. Still, it is possible to improve with perseverance and determination. Also, writing about your emotions will help you vent.
15. Lean on your loved ones
Maybe your friends or family are not as afraid as you. Communicating how driving in fog makes you feel or talking to the people who you rely on for support can make it easier to deal with fears. Likewise, it is likely that your friends and family have gone through similar experiences and can give you valuable recommendations. Although simply with their affection and time, you will perceive that your resources to face any adversity increase.
16. Talk to people who share your fear
Finding people who go through the same situation as us is beneficial in practically all areas of life. If we believe that what happens to us is unusual and we feel misunderstood, or it is difficult for us to talk about these problems, finding ourselves in front of another person who has to face the same circumstances (or communicating with them virtually) will allow us to open up and share experiences that enable us to acquire strategies that would not have occurred to us otherwise.
17. Don’t be afraid of criticism
Sometimes, regardless of whether our fear is riding a bicycle, speaking a new language, or falling to the ground, we do not take the critical steps to face our difficulties due to the criticism of others if we stop trying or make a mistake. We all hit speedbumps at times. Most likely, the rest of the people are not as aware of us as we think. And if someone talks poorly of us, we lose more by avoiding our goals than by listening to their negative comments.
18. Take advantage of new technologies
Technological advances enable us in many ways to overcome our fears. There are already therapies that use virtual reality to safely and effectively expose patients to the object of their panic. Still, you don’t have to go that far. We can download apps designed for this purpose.
For example, there are apps designed for people who feel terrified when traveling by plane. These applications provide data on travel safety or offer exercises that reduce anxiety. It is also possible to find tools to help children overcome the fear of the dark through games or to help us overcome the fear of speaking in public.
19. Don’t trust just any source
There is a remarkable amount of information on the Internet without context on matters that increase our fears (and on all subjects, in general). For example, if you are deeply burdened by disease or attacks, ignore most alarmist and ill-advised data. This commotion of inconsistent references makes it difficult for us to understand particular topics sometimes and prompts us to make the wrong decisions.
20. Seek professional help if necessary
Overcoming fear is not always entirely up to us. Suppose you have a problem such as a phobia that makes you unable to progress in various areas of your life. In that case, it is recommended that you consult an experienced professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
You shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help at this level. Many people go to specialists and make great strides with their problems. Therapies to overcome fear are practical and are under continuous review.