You may have heard that the only way to overcome your fears is to face them. That is true!
… and, it’s much easier said than done.
Fear can be paralyzing. The immediate reaction to fear is often to freeze or avoid.
It takes a lot of courage and commitment to go towards your fear instead of away from it. Here are four tips about how to face your fears head on!
Know your why
Why do you want to face this fear? How is it holding you back? What would you be able to accomplish if you could overcome the fear?
Answers like, because I shouldn’t be afraid of this or because my family thinks it’s a good idea do not count.
If feeling ashamed or pressured is the only reason you can think of to change something, you may need to work on accepting your fear, instead of changing it.
So, let’s assume you’ve got great reasons to face your fears. Maybe your fears are getting in the way of your ability to spend time with family, pursue the career you really want, or be your authentic self.
Here’s an example response:
I want to face my fear of public speaking because I want to inspire myself and others by sharing my story out loud.
I want to face my fear of ______________________ because_____________________.
Break it down
A caveat: Complete this step with help from a licensed therapist. Doing it solo could be overwhelming or re-traumatizing.
Any big undertaking becomes a heck of a lot easier when we break it down into smaller steps.
If you’re not ready to take the plunge into the deep end of your fear, dip a toe in the water instead. Figure out how you can ease into your fear; that way, it’ll feel less overwhelming.
For instance, maybe you ease into your fear of public speaking by practicing your speech in front of the mirror at first. Then, you practice in front of one close friend.
Slowly, increase how anxiety-provoking the scenarios are. As you accomplish each step, your confidence will increase!
Wait, isn’t this exposure therapy?
Yes! As all you psychology nerds know, exposure therapy is a form of behavioral treatment used to help people with anxiety disorders and phobias.
A fear ladder is a tool that can help clients determine which steps to take towards overcoming their fear, and in what order.
Again, I want to emphasize that this intervention is best done with a professional who can guide you! That professional could be me, but I’m not the therapist of everyone reading this blog post!
To visualize something is to imagine it in your mind.
You can’t be what you can’t see. Just by picturing yourself courageously facing your fear, you’ve already increased the likelihood that it will happen.
This seems ridiculous. Does visualization really help?
It really does.
By imagining yourself succeeding, you’re more likely to behave in ways that lead to success.
Also, visualizing creates new neural pathways in your brain that help it associate your feared situation with this success. If you practice visualizing over and over, your brain will become more and more accustomed to responding to the feared trigger with feelings of mastery, in addition to anxiety.
Even if you think visualization is silly, doing it will get your brain to associate the feared situation with amusement, which can still help regulate your fear.
- Visualize using all 5 senses. In your imagination, notice the colors, scents, sounds, and reactions of the others around you.
- Add lots of detail to your visualizations.
- You may notice resistance or cringing as you visualize. That’s normal. Keep visualizing anyway. Remember, this is just for you!
- Go a little over the top in how you picture things playing out. Don’t be afraid to cast yourself as the hero. Get campy, have fun with it (I certainly do in the example below!)
- Write out your visualizations, record yourself narrating them, or just imagine them in your head freestyle.
Example Visualization Narrative: Public Speaking
Imagine yourself waking up on the day of your speech and feeling excited. You’re beaming, and there’s a bounce in your step. Someone on the street stops you to tell you you’re glowing, and ask what your secret is. Proudly, you say, “I’m going to face my biggest fear today!”
In the lobby of the hotel, you don’t feel nearly as nervous as you thought you would. That’s probably because of the conviction deep down in your soul that you are going to nail this.
As the announcer says your name, you walk confidently up to the podium. Looking out at the faces in the crowd, you see immediately that they’re human, just like you, and they want to connect.
You expected to be much more nervous, but you notice that as the words are coming out, they sound steady and confident! The crowd is making eye contact with you, looking engaged, and laughing at all the right moments. You end the speech to a round of hearty applause and even a standing ovation!
Yes, I’ve saved the best for last. COMMIT to facing your fears!
Choose a day and time to try the first, easiest step towards facing your fear. Write it in your planner. Let a friend, family, and/or therapist know of your plan. These are all things you can do to hold yourself accountable.
Excuses: The Enemy of Commitment
When the day to face your fear comes, it is very likely that you suddenly realize you have the sniffles and should probably stay in bed… Or perhaps it occurs to you that there is a Very Important Chore you forgot to do that absolutely has to come before the commitment. Please recognize these as excuses you are finding to avoid facing your fear.
You are not coming up with excuses because you are lazy, undisciplined, a failure, or whatever else your mind is telling you.
You are coming up with excuses because our first instinct as human beings is to avoid fear. It is a very normal and expected instinct.
And yet! We are evolved. We can thank our fears for trying to protect us, AND we can still choose to follow through with our commitments to ourselves.
Facing your fears is difficult no matter what. But taking these suggestions may make it a little less horrible.
If you’re still unsure about facing your fears, or if you’ve already tried and ‘failed’ a thousand times…
No matter where you are on this journey…
I am holding you in the light.*
*A Quaker expression that means I am thinking of you and sending you good vibes.
Rebecca Ogle is a licensed therapist who practices teletherapy with millennials who live in Illinois and internationally. Rebecca empowers her clients to cope with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and relationship problems using their strengths and inner wisdom.