For humans, fear is a natural mechanism we have developed to avoid dangerous situations. Yet, there is a significant difference between rational and irrational fears. Our instinct tells us to be scared when we are alone at night, for example, and a stranger approaches us. Our brains recognize this as a potentially dangerous situation and our fear instinct prepares us to react. Many of us, however, have irrational fears that trigger the same reaction and cause anxiety. Sometimes our fear instinct causes more harm than good and it can stop us from experiencing great things. These tips will help you in overcoming your fears.
1) Expose yourself to what you fear.
Overcoming a fear is not always easy. According to exposure therapy, in order to overcome a fear, we must be exposed to the stimulus that is evoking the fear (e.g. snakes). The basis of exposure therapy claims that exposing ourselves to a fear-evoking stimulus helps our brains adapt to this stimulus. Soon, once adaptation occurs, we will no longer experience fear or stress.
For example: A man who fears spiders and is exposed to them regularly may panic at first. However, he will eventually get used to the presence of spiders. His fear will decrease as his brain recognizes that the spiders are not dangerous, and that his fear is irrational.
2) Take it one step at a time.
It is important to remember that overcoming fear happens gradually. In systematic desensitization therapy, patients work their way up a fear hierarchy. This involves ranking fear-provoking situations by how much fear these situations may cause a particular individual. Then, once the fear hierarchy is complete, patients expose themselves to these situations, beginning with the least fear-provoking situation.
While systematic desensitization is used in therapy, we can also practice it ourselves by creating our very own fear hierarchies. If the situations that cause us fear are hard to replicate, we can imagine ourselves in these situations instead.
3) Learn and practice relaxation techniques.
It is important to stay calm during exposure to fear-provoking stimuli. Relaxation techniques used before or during exposure can be very helpful. These techniques can make exposure more tolerable and can help replace tension and stress with calm. This method is also used in systematic desensitization therapy, as the goal of therapy is to replace fear or anxiety with a relaxation response. Some techniques include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation. You can also try picturing a situation that makes you feel relaxed (e.g., sitting on a warm beach, or listening to calming music).
Although fears can be limiting, try to remember that, your largest fear often carries your greatest growth. Following the tips above may help you overcome some of your deepest fears, and thereby achieve that growth. Why not give it a try?