“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” —Nelson Mandela
“I will get to it tomorrow. Let me get done with this first and then I will get to it. I don’t think I can do it. I wish someone could tell me whether what I am thinking is the right way to go. I am no good at it. It really does not matter. It’s all good anyway.”
So many of these thoughts pervade our mind, sometimes consistently with regards to a particular situation. These thoughts are nothing but clues that we are being plagued by fear.
Fear pervades our life. Fear can arise from external stimulants or internal impediments. It can result from our trepidation of losing our life or limb or from our fear of confronting a situation that we perceive to have debilitating consequences on our selves or on our life.
The dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat”. Fear can result in a fight or flight response, and in cases of extreme fear, a freeze response where you are not able to move or speak.
This belief of impending danger can be rational, based on a fact, or irrational, based on our imagination. Fear can be caused by something unpleasant we have experienced in the past and the feeling that it will happen again. By something unpleasant we may be knowledgeable about but have not personally experienced it. Or by something that is just plain scary.
When we are born into this world, we are without fear. That makes it is easy to do daring things when we are younger. But as we experience life, we learn to feel afraid, regardless of whether it is obvious to others.
There are many reasons why we experience fear.
- As we age, there is recognition of our failings and immortality, resulting in a proportionate increase in our fears. Some adventurous sports that would excite us in our youth such as skydiving and skateboarding, only elicit fear in us later on in life.
- Our level of responsibilities determine our fear temperature. For those of us with dependents, the value we place on our life is increased by how much we believe we are needed by our dependents. If anything poses a risk to our life or limbs, it elicits a high degree of fear in us.
- Our family conditioning may make us believe that we are brave or timid. This conditioning is by the comments we hear growing up that get set in our psyche as our inner voices. We allow other’s view of us to define our self-view.
- Our fear of failure. We are afraid of failing ourselves, failing our children, failing our family, failing our bosses. Basically failing anybody who places trust on us.
- Fear of a certain someone or a certain situation that we believe has an inordinate influence on our life. We may perceive this person or situation as having the power to negatively impact the course of our life.
- Our indecisiveness. Sometimes we are not sure whether what we want to do is the right thing to do. This creates uncertainty and fear in our mind regarding the viability of our decision.
- Our lack of confidence. We may believe that we do not have the skills to handle the situation we are fearful of.
Even as we feel the fear, we need to remind ourselves that fear is a learned response. Just as we have learned it through our experiences, we can unlearn it using the same medium. All we need is the focus, determination, perseverance and the attitude of meeting our fears head-on.
Some of the things we can do to conquer our fears are:
- Feel the fear and do it anyway. “Always do what you are afraid to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- If it is an interpersonal situation that makes you fearful, role play. Think of all possible things that can be said and done and prepare a response for them. Rehearse this response multiple times until you become confident of handling it.
- Don’t avoid the person you fear to confront. Rather welcome them. Because they are just messengers who are in your life to help you conquer a certain fear. Change your mindset to not look at them as your enemies but rather as helpers who are there to assist your move to the next stage of growth.
- Be certain about the path you have chosen. Research, discuss, listen to your heart until you are convinced of the rightness of your course of action. “Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear.” —William Congreve
- Prayers. Never underestimate the power of prayers. It reaps results both externally and internally.
- Share your innermost terrified feelings with someone you completely trust. Their non-judgmental listening and support will free your mind to explore alternatives and not get trapped in its own fearful web.
- Gather information and knowledge about the person or the situation that you fear. “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” —Marie Curie
- Believe in and have faith in yourself. If you have done nothing wrong, there is no reason to fear. “If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?” —Confucius
- Stop thinking about the fearful situation. Distract yourself. The more you think about it, the larger in magnitude it gets. “Living with fear stops us taking risks, and if you don’t go out on the branch, you’re never going to get the best fruit.” —Sarah Parish
- Repeat to yourself, like a mantra, that you are not afraid. Say it as soon as you get up in the morning and just prior to going to bed at night and any time in between. “You just have to get rid of fear and confront the world. Look at yourself in the mirror and say to yourself, ‘I love you and nothing will destroy you and you’re not going to fall.’” —Ricky Martin
- Visualize yourself successfully overcoming the hurdle that you are afraid of. Do it often. Visualize each and every step of this conquest, from your body language to your mental state to your words.
- Just because you handled yourself bravely in a fearful situation does not mean that you have scored the goal and need to rest. Continue to invite or participate in that fearful situation in your life until that situation no longer elicits a tiny bit of anxiety and feels comfortable and normal. “Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it… that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.” —Dale Carnegie
- Look to your past. Have you encountered a similar situation in the past? How did you handle it? If you handled it well, take courage from it. If not, promise yourself to make it up for the last time. Sometimes we may think we are timid but our response to situations in our life may indicate otherwise. Just like scarecrow and lion in the “Wizard of Oz”. They both believe they are timid and afraid when in fact by their actions they prove to be most brave and courageous.
- Imagine all of us as actors in this drama of life, with each of us playing a certain part. Toss aside any personal negativity and get in the role.
- Journal it. You will be surprised at what comes out when you start penning down things you are afraid of. Disregard the grammar and sentence structure. Whatever comes to your mind, write it down. You will be amazed at all the revelations that come to you. You will be surprised and pleased with how wise you really are.
- Know that you are not alone in feeling the fear. We all have some sort of fear. “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” —Helen Keller
- Personalize your fear. Converse with it as if it were an entity. Tell it to go away.
- Empathize with the person who you fear. Maybe they are as fearful of you or the ensuing situation as you are. Feel their feelings. You may find yourself more of a resolver than a victim in this dreaded encounter.
- Reflect on your possible role in the creation of this anguishing scenario. See what actions you personally can take to mitigate the flaming of the situation and to cut the chase.
- Think of the worse outcome that can come out of this encounter. Get prepared for it. This will mitigate your fear.
“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”
~Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Do you have other ways of facing your fears?