If there’s one thing that holds us back and wreaks total havoc on our existence, it’s fear. If we let it, fear can completely and totally take over our lives. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. While we need some “good” fear, we can draw the line and learn to control “bad” fear before it control us.
Good fear saves us, bad fear controls us
Just like there’s a difference between minor worry and obsessing over things we can’t control isn’t, there’s a difference between good and bad fear in general. A little fear is healthy. Without it, we’d live very dangerous lives!
Think about it. If you weren’t afraid of dying (or suffering excruciating pain, at least) you wouldn’t stop that impulse that says, “I wonder what it’s like to fly? Let’s jump off the roof and find out!” Seriously, good fear plays a role in nearly every aspect of what we call “common sense.” We fear pain, suffering, and- at least to some extent- dying. So, in a way, fear does control our lives.
However, in most cases, we’re able to balance it out with our innate sense of duty, wonder, adventure, and curiosity. What happens, though, when you’re so gripped by fear that even your sense of duty and curiosity can’t overcome it? When it stops controlling just the things that put you in danger and starts controlling your everyday life?
For example, I have a friend who can’t drive on the highway. She’s gripped with such fear and panic by the whole idea of it that she simply avoids it entirely. Her fear prevents her from visiting family, from taking vacations, even from going to conferences that would advance her career. One simple fear of doing something that billions do every single day has completely held her back in both her social and work life.
How do we control our fear before it controls us?
Those who live in fear- be it of driving on the highways, going to the doctor, or even just something as random as clowns- know how hard it is to control it. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have entire websites out there devoted to listing out the thousands of phobias that exist. To paraphrase Roosevelt, though, nothing worth doing is easy, right?
Scientists have spent generations studying ways to help people control fear, coming up with everything from anti-anxiety medications to electric shock therapy. Before you run out and get your brain hooked up to electrodes or resort to medications that make you feel like a zombie, though, there are other things to try.
Now, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in overcoming fear. I’m not offering you medical advice. In no way do I think I know better than a licensed therapist. However, like most people today, I’ve had my moments where fear of current events completely took over my life. So, I can offer you tips from my own experience and hope that they help you, too.
Figure out what you’re really afraid of
Remember my friend who is afraid of driving on the highway? Well, she’s not actually scared of the highway itself. It’s merging that really freaks her out. Fear that she won’t time it right and that she’ll crash her car. In the rare occasions that she had no choice but to take the highway, she was fine once she got on. Knowing what you’re scared of helps you with the next step.
Plan out some solutions ahead of time
When my friend has no other option- no back roads leading to her destination, for example- she uses what she knows about her fear to plan solutions. Maybe she finds an on ramp in a less busy section of the highway. Perhaps she starts her journey when traffic is fairly low. When you know you have a plan, your fears can’t overpower you as easily.
Live in the moment
Fear is like 99.9% about what can happen in the future. That’s not a scientific statistic, just logic. Think about it. Say you’re scared of spiders. When you see one just chilling out in his web, your fear kicks in. Are you scared that she’ll continue to sit there, doing her spider thing?
Or are you scared that she’ll jump off the web and into your hair, bite you and inject her eggs in your skull, which will hatch in your brain and kill you. I’m being dramatic for a reason there, as our fears tend to escalate to strange and unlikely scenarios.
Consider your other fears. Are you scared of flying or crashing? Terrified of dogs or being bitten by one. In nearly every case, we’re scared of what could happen rather that what is happening. Choosing to live in the moment as much as possible helps us let go of worries about the future.
Do something that scares you
Here’s one recommended by psychologists. Do something that scares you every day. Obviously, you don’t have to try to conquer your big fears daily. Instead, focus on your smaller fears. If you’re scared of spiders, maybe just watch a video about them instead of going out and confronting one. Terrified of clowns? Start by watching a funny clown movie (and NOT Stephen King’s IT!).
Educate yourself about your fears
Knowledge is power! Take the time to learn about the likelihood of your fears coming true. I’m not saying knowing the facts will completely erase them, but it can’t hurt. Let’s go back to the spider. Did you know that spiders only kill 3 people a year in the US? Yes, that’s still tragic, but if you break it down, your chances of being one of those three is 0.000001%.
Look for the positive
If you truly can’t overcome a fear, learn how to use it to make your life better. Scared of driving on the highway? Rather than crying over lost opportunities, rejoice in the discovery of cute little towns you never would have found without taking back roads. Terrified of flying? Embrace the excitement of a cross-country train trip. While it’s naïve to say that every single fear has a silver lining, if you genuinely try to look for the positive, you’ll spend a lot less time letting fears control your happiness. Does that make sense?
Like I said, sometimes fear is beneficial. Fear of pain keeps us from sticking our hand in a fire. Likewise, worrying about the safety and health of others, can actually help us turn illness into wellness. Just keep a handle on it. Don’t let a fear of getting burned keep you from enjoying a campfire, or a fear of infecting others keep you from enjoying the sunshine in your own backyard. Remember, there’s a huge difference between using fear to control your wilder impulses and letting fear completely control your life.