Fear is a useful emotion that helped our species survive in the wild through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. If our ancestors hadn’t learned to recognise and react to the danger of a predator attack or natural disaster, then you and I probably wouldn’t be here right now to talk about it.
When fear hits, your body releases a deluge of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These act to elevate your blood pressure and heart rate, priming your body to fight off the source of the anxiety. This high-energy state might be useful when you’re being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, but if left unchecked it can lead to irrational thinking and chronic health problems.
If that sounds like something you want to avoid, then follow these 4 simple steps to release your fears and get your body and mind back under control:
See Also: How to Handle the Fear of Failure
1. Return to the Present Moment
Fear is often the result of negative thoughts and beliefs about the future -- i.e. something that you believe may happen is causing your mind to react now. Before you can even begin to get over your fears, you’ll need to come back to the present moment and stop your imagination spiralling out of control. This can be accomplished with a few minutes of simple meditation.
First of all, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Now close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Notice how it feels and sounds as you inhale and exhale. If your mind begins to wander and your fears begin to resurface, just let them pass and bring your attention back to the sound of your breath. Keep this up for a few minutes, or until you feel relaxed and at peace.
2. Find out What You're Afraid of
Now that you’re in a more rational state of mind, you’re ready to tackle the source of your fears. It might sound obvious, but the first step is to determine exactly what it is you’re afraid of. This will help you narrow down the issue and make it easier to figure out what you need to do to resolve it.
Think about your fears for a moment, and try to get as detailed as possible. For example, "I fear going to work" is not specific enough: Which aspect of your job causes you the most worry? Do you feel intimidated by your boss? Are the hours and workload killing your personal life? Make sure you’re 100% clear on the source of your fears before moving on.
3. Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
As a simple thought experiment, try to imagine the absolute worst that could happen if what you’re afraid of comes to pass. The more ridiculous and exaggerated you can get with this, the better.
Taking the example from above, imagine going to work and getting beaten up by your boss as all your colleagues watch and laugh, then returning home to find your spouse has left you for the milkman and your family and friends have disowned you.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but this is a great way to put your fear into perspective. You’ll begin to realise how incredibly unlikely the worst-case scenario is, which in turn will diminish the intensity and grip of your anxiety.
4. Confront and Overcome the Problem
This is where the rubber meets the road. To get rid of your fears once and for all, you’ll need to take action and meet them head-on. Start off by visualising yourself tackling the issue and getting the outcome you want. Notice how you felt afraid, but did it anyway and coped well. Try this exercise a few times to build up your confidence, and then go ahead and do it for real.
If you’re afraid of the unknown, it might help to follow a process of gradual exposure until the situation feels comfortable to you. Don’t like meeting new people? Spend a few minutes with a crowd of strangers, and then get out. Do this whenever the opportunity presents itself and push yourself to stay a little longer each time.
In all cases, take a moment to reflect afterwards, acknowledge your bravery and congratulate yourself. This will help to build your self-belief and resistance to fear in the future.
See Also: Maintaining a Positive Attitude at Work
Remember, it’s perfectly normal -- even useful -- to feel afraid sometimes. Just don’t let fear take over your life, damage your health or prevent you from achieving your goals. Whenever you feel your worries or anxieties beginning to surface, follow the steps above to stop them in their tracks and take back control of yourself.
Now it’s your turn: What are you most afraid of, and how do you deal with it? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below!