Tools to Combat Your Fear
by Kari Pederson
Ever since I disclosed my fear of sharks last month, they seem to be everywhere. Recently, live footage of a shark attack was captured during a surfing competition, and I was watching the event as the skirmish unfolded. I sincerely apologize to everyone in the gym who was startled by my high-pitched screams. Other shark encounters have also made the news, and every incident seems to reach my ears. I think the sharks may be mocking me.
The good news is I am not a helpless victim waiting for Jaws to ruin my next trip to the beach. I can use tools to combat my fear and keep my emotions from limiting the life I want:
1. Get Your Head in the Game
Like it or not, certain universal truths exist regarding fear. Accepting these truths can put you in the mindset to move forward and avoid a lot of frustration. Here are my versions of two of my favorites from fear guru Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.
- The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to do the thing that frightens you.
- Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from feeling helpless.
For more information on universal fear truths, check out the book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.
2. What Is the Worst Outcome?
The tool I find most helpful is to imagine the worst possible outcome from a situation and how I would handle it if it happened. For example, the most negative result from exhibiting my paintings would be my art show getting a bad review. If it does get a bad review, I will take the opportunity to learn and grow as an artist. Many well-respected artists have had unfavorable scrutiny. Most fears trace back to the real worry of not being able to handle a negative circumstance. You build trust in yourself each time you make it through a fearful event or disappointment. As you trust yourself to handle whatever comes, fear levels significantly diminish.
3. Widen Your Comfort Zone
Face the thing that frightens you as often as you can. Take baby steps if necessary, but consistently take steps towards doing what frightens you. If you fear rejection from a publisher, identify three publications that might be interested in your work. Then identify pieces that might be ready for submission. Work your way through each necessary action until you achieve your goal. You can also keep a success journal to celebrate each courageous risk.
4. Become a Pollyanna
Hard science now backs up what top performance athletes have known for years. Using positive self-talk and visualizing positive outcomes increase the probability of success. Spoiler Alert: Next month we will explore the science of happiness in much more detail.
Still not convinced? Try this simple muscle testing exercise with a friend. Stand up and hold your arm out to the side. Think of something that makes you feel happy or powerful. Invite your friend to try and push your arm down and record the level of resistance. Then repeat the same experiment while you are thinking negative thoughts about yourself. The results speak for themselves.
5. Reward yourself
Do something nice for yourself after EACH time you do something that frightens you or widens your comfort zone. Your brain will start to associate taking risks with pleasure and this makes it easier to take the next risk. Just remember, safety first.
6. Perfection is an illusion
Practice makes progress, not perfection. If anyone figures out how to make perfect pills, can I please be your business partner? We are often harder on ourselves than others. Please be patient as you continue to make progress in facing your fears. And remember, any action you take to address your fears counts as progress.
7. Take Time Out
Facing your fears can create a lot of nasty physical and psychological symptoms and feel downright unpleasant. If you need to take a break, do it. Take a walk. Call a friend. Meditate or take a nap. Go back to fighting your fear when you feel ready.
8. Get Help When Fear Really Gets in Your Way
Sometimes fears can start to negatively affect relationships, your career, or daily activities. Please reach out to a counselor, doctor or certified coach if fear has a consistent negative impact on your life. Many helpful resources are available if you need extra support.
Combatting your fears takes practice and effort. So prepare yourself to enjoy the journey, just as you would need to do when learning how to take fabulous photographs or write beautiful calligraphy. More self-confidence is the huge prize for doing the work. And you might even get the chance to have a few laughs along the way. I definitely chuckle now every time I enter the gym.
Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the sixth installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.