Is fear holding you back and keeping you from stepping into your brilliance? You’re not alone. Everybody is afraid of something. Common fears include public speaking, flying, heights, bugs and snakes, strangers, success, blood/needles, and darkness. Believe it or not, 8.9% of Americans are afraid of zombies and 7.6% are afraid of clowns! And what’s the biggest predictor of fear? Watching television, especially talk shows.
Fear’s hard-wired into our brains to protect us from danger. We literally have an interconnected web of brain regions (called the default mode network, DMN for short) that scans the past for problems and anticipates threats in the future.
Here’s the thing about fear, unless you’re in immediate danger (say you’re being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger or someone is holding a gun to your head), fear is just a thought that triggers an uncomfortable emotion which impacts your behaviour. Most fear is all in our head – a figment of our imagination. That’s good news because while you can’t always change your situation you can overcome your fears by changing your thoughts.
8 Steps to overcome fear
- Get motivated. List the pros and cons of dealing with your fears. Ask yourself: How might I benefit from overcoming my fears? Who would I be, what would I do and how would my life look if I face my fears? What is fear protecting me from?
- Name it, you tame it. Pausing and noticing when you are afraid will bring fear into the conscious, thinking part of your brain. Instead of ducking and covering, once you name the fear, you can deal with it rationally, turn towards yourself with compassion and give yourself what you need to stay calm.
- May I be safe. This is one of my favourite practices that I use as a mindful self-compassion teacher. Set an intention to be safe and remind yourself you are safe by silently repeating: ‘May I be safe and free from fear.’ Remember the acronym for fear: False Evidence Appearing Real.
- Discover the trigger. When you feel afraid or stressed, determine what thoughts triggered your fearful emotion.
- Release. Thoughts are just things. Instead of ruminating (literally chewing them over and over in your mind), let them come and go like waves in the ocean or clouds in the sky.
- Relax. Emotions are felt experiences in the body that can be physically released by relaxing your body, especially where you’re holding on to fear. Fear is often felt as tightness in the chest or stomach pain. Body-mind practices like yoga can also help you release fear.
- Get centred. When you feel fear, connect with your heart by thinking about someone or something that you love. Imagine white light radiating from your heart out into the world.
- Practise mindfulness meditation. Research shows that practising mindfulness meditation deactivates the default mode network, both while meditating and in daily life. Mindfulness meditation has numerous additional benefits including reducing stress and anxiety and helping you to be present in your life so you can enjoy it more. To learn how to do mindfulness meditation click here.
You don’t have to overcome your fears all at once. Start slowly. Take baby steps. If you’re afraid of public speaking try speaking to just a few people rather than a huge crowd. Scared of heights? Climb a ladder before scaling a mountain.
Every day you have numerous opportunities to choose love over fear. When you choose fear, you contract and stay stuck. When you choose love you grow and glow.
Dr Ellen Albertson is a psychologist, registered dietitian nutritionist, certified wellness coach, reiki master and mindful self-compassion teacher with 20+ years helping people optimise their well-being.
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