Fear is natural and can be helpful, but for many people it can become a problem that limits their lives. If fear is a problem for you, the following three techniques might be useful: allowing yourself to feel your fears, changing how you think about fear, and doing the things you’re afraid of.
Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach explains that when we’re scared, we often think the fear is bad, like it shouldn’t be happening, so we try to push it away or control it. But instead of pushing it away, she says we should accept it and allow it to be there, and adds that fear often means you’re on the edge of your comfort zone and about to grow.
Tara suggests that when you notice you are caught by fear, for example if your mind is racing with fear thoughts, you should pause and name it, like ‘that’s fear’, or ‘I’m really scared right now’. Naming something takes away some of its power and reduces how much it controls you, and you will be more able to be kinder to yourself, check whether your fear thoughts are accurate, or even change your thinking to ‘about to grow’.
Fear will always be with us, so we should accept it as part of life, psychologist Susan Jeffers says. However, we can change the way we think about it: Jeffers argues that underneath all your fears is the fear that you won’t be able to handle whatever happens, so a key technique is to change your thinking to ‘I’ll handle it’ – remind yourself that whatever happens, you’ll deal with it and be okay. In addition to this, she says that you need to manage your negative self-talk – the voice in your head that talks about all the things that could go wrong. Notice it, and try to replace it with a kinder voice, she says.
As well as changing your thinking, Jeffers believes that doing the things you’re afraid of is the best way to reduce the fear and feel better about yourself. She suggests taking a risk every day to expand your comfort zone and become stronger. If you avoid the things you’re afraid of, they will always be there as something to fear and will leave you with an underlying feeling of helplessness. But if you take the risk and face them, you’ll grow in confidence about your ability to handle things and realise that you can face some of the other difficulties in your life.
So how do we go about feeling, re-thinking, and facing some of our common fears from the previous article: death, rejection, failure, and missing out?
Fear of death.
Our fear of death leads many of us to avoid thinking about it, but some believe that connecting with and accepting the reality of death can actually help us to live more fully and appreciate what we have. Irvin Yalom argues that ‘the idea of death may save us’, explaining that being in touch with the fact that death is coming has helped him to value his life and what’s important, and worry less about the things that aren’t important.
Fear of rejection.
To reduce how much this fear limits your life, neuropsychologist Theo Tsaousides suggests thinking about what situations you’re avoiding because you’re afraid that they might lead to rejection; then decide whether what you want is important enough to take the risk of being rejected. In addition to this, it’s worth checking whether your beliefs are accurate – for example, is it true that people would reject you if you let them see the ‘unattractive’ parts of you? And remember: if you are rejected, you’ll get over it.
Fear of failure.
When you’re worried that you might fail at something, it’s a good idea to try to get in touch with what it is exactly that you’re afraid of, according to psychologist Ellen Hendrickson; think about what’s underneath the fear. She adds that it’s also useful to think about both what you want to achieve and the obstacles that might stop you being successful, and prepare what you would do if you did fail. And remember that if you do fail, you’ll handle it, and the way to feel better about yourself is to go out and do it.
Fear of missing out (FOMO).
The suggestions Tchiki Davis gives for managing FOMO are a bit more practical: she suggests simply taking breaks from your phone, for example by silencing messages while you’re socialising or doing something important, or taking even longer breaks from social media. Tara Brach adds that if you get in touch with what you’re feeling when you’re experiencing FOMO, you might even realise that what you actually want is already here.
To summarise, here’s an idea from psychologist Jordan Peterson about how facing fears can help you to grow. He explains that fears and problems are like the dragons in western mythology – in many old stories, the frightened hero has to confront and kill the dragon, after which he gets the gold or the princess. Peterson says, ‘the thing that you most need is always where you least want to look’; the dragon represents the thing you’re avoiding because you’re afraid of it, and the gold you get after you have faced it is the thing you most need.
Are there any dragons that you need to face today? Who could you grow into if you did?