Are you paralyzed at the thought of public speaking? Shaky in meetings with your boss? Find yourself tongue-tied in social situations?
Fear can occur in any number of situations. It can be both effective — for instance, when it compels us to run from a burning building — and a blockade that can keep us from living our lives fully.
In a recent article in GQ Magazine, behavioral neuroscientist Mona Lisa Shultz, PhD, describes illogical fear — involving that which does not threaten our lives or well-being — as a “corrupted file that you downloaded by accident that keeps coming up.”
3 Strategies to Ease Your Fears
Fear is elemental and, because of that, incredibly powerful. When we are afraid of something real, our fear is communicating something important about our world. According to the article, at these times the simplest strategy to reduce your fear is to make friends with it.
Befriending fear is incredibly effective because it short-circuits our natural desire to run when we’re faced with something scary. Instead, ask yourself “what’s my fear telling me?” You might find that fear, worry and anxiety are not your enemies, but are signals of important events and circumstances in your life.
If you think of your anxiety about an upcoming meeting as a buzz of energy or as a sign of opportunity and excitement (an emotion that is closely linked to fear), you can harness that power and improve your performance.
Staying with fear, rather than running from it, allows you to respond to its cause and use its intensity to motivate you to act.
The intensity of fear can make you want to stick your head in the sand and ignore it. But that strategy only increases your fear over time. A second fundamental strategy for reducing fear is to face it — avoid avoiding it.
Often our fears are based in nebulous, incompletely formed ideas and beliefs. You may avoid going for a promotion, never start a conversation with someone you admire or not ask for help when you need it out of fear.
Avoiding these situations only intensifies fear based in faulty beliefs. For example, you may believe “if I put myself out there and am rejected, I’m worthless” or “I can’t handle failure” or “needing help is weak.”
The only way to challenge these faulty beliefs is to throw yourself into the feared situation and learn that you’re not worthless if you’re rejected; failure is painful, but survivable; and asking for help makes it more likely that you will achieve your goals.
You might just find that much of the time you aren’t rejected; you succeed instead of fail; and asking for help strengthens your relationships.
The third strategy for reducing fear is to think bold, daring and gutsy thoughts. Shultz suggests that you train a voice inside your head to counter your fearful automatic thoughts.
By doing this, you are teaching the brain a new memory and breaking the link between a circumstance and the experience of fear. You may need to write down fearful thoughts, such as “I’m going to lose my job” or “I can’t handle it” with direct contradictions. You may say to yourself, “I contribute a lot to this organization,” or “I’ve overcome difficult situations in the past.”
Fear is a physiological, often illogical experience. We might experience it recurrently (e.g., every time we think of death), or it can blindside us, throwing us off-guard when we least expect it.
Try these strategies and see if your fear no longer gets the best of you.