Eleven Ways To Fight Your Fears


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by Jayaram V

Source: This essay was originally published in the book “Think Success, Essays on Self-help” by Jayaram V under the title, “Coping With Fears," and reproduced with publisher's permission.

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Fear is a protective mechanism. It is part of your survival. Therefore, do not fear the fear itself. Jayaram V

Fear is an adaptive, learned, and conditioned response to any perceived threat. The threat may be real or imaginary. Fears caused by real threats are normal, but those caused by imaginary ones are not.

The latter are known as phobias or irrational fears, which leave a crippling and disabling effect upon people who experience them. To overcome them, professional help is required. This article is about ordinary fears, which people experience in normal situations, and which may interfere with their decisions and actions and prevent them from being who they are and what they can actually accomplish in their lives.

Our response to fear usually falls between the two extremes of avoidance and escape or confrontation. Simply speaking, they are the instinctive flight or fight responses, which both humans and animals use when they are threatened as their survival strategy. When we perceive a threat, depending upon the situation, we may act instinctively, emotionally, impulsively, rationally or irrationally. We may act with wisdom and knowledge, or with ignorance and delusion. Since we are prone to desires, expectations, beliefs, and values, we do not always respond to fearful situations in the same manner. When we are afraid, we may overreact, under react, ignore, suppress, strategize or just withdraw. Our response in each case depends upon how we perceive the threat and weigh the risks.

How fear manifests in our lives

Fear rules our minds and hearts, and affects the quality of our lives, success, thinking, and wellbeing, apart from how we deal with the problems we face in our lives. It is said that most of our emotions are variations of the same primal fear since they are produced by its presence or absence. In daily life, we experience fear in various forms as worry, insecurity, anxiety, insecurity, alarm, concern, fright, hesitation, apprehension, tension, nervousness, timidity, dread, horror, panic, breakdown, hysteria, palpitation, terror, and nightmare. We also experience it as lack of self-confidence, courage and conviction. When fear persists for long, we may experience stress and depression, but when it is resolved, we feel happy, relieved and relaxed. Thus, fear is the commonest, dominant and persistent feeling or emotion that we experience. Following are a few well-known fears we frequently experience in our lives.

  • Fear of having what we do not want to have.
  • Fear of not having what we want to have.
  • Fear of losing what we love most.
  • Fear of being stuck with what we hate.
  • Fear of failure and fear of success.
  • Fear of being lonely and fear of being in the company of difficult people.
  • Fear of being caught doing something wrong.
  • Fear of being criticized and ridiculed.
  • Fear of hurting people or being hurt by them.
  • Fear of pain and death.
  • Fear of asking and fear of rejection.
  • Fear of darkness, ghosts, demons, the unknown and the mysterious.
  • Fear of losing control.
  • Fear of conflicts and confrontation.
  • Fear of losing one’s money, honor, power, prestige, status, self-esteem and recognition.
  • Fear of authority.
  • Fear of wild animals, snakes and reptiles.
  • Fear of intimacy and fear of being ignored and neglected.
  • Fear of aging, sickness, injury and death

Our fears are conditioned or learned responses to external threats. Unless we know what caused them, we cannot deal with them effectively. Sometimes, we fear for no particular reason, even when commonsense suggests otherwise be-cause the incidents connected to such fears many invoke in us negative memories and produce anxiety. Our fears are also aggravated by our thoughts, imagination, exaggeration, and pessimism, which make our task of coping with them difficult. Some fears are caused by our subconscious minds. They are even more difficult to resolve, because we cannot easily ascertain their causes, as they remain hidden in our forgotten past.

How we experience fear

We experience fear as part of our survival instinct. Some fear is necessary and normal, because it keeps us within our bounds and alerts us to the threats present in our environment. It becomes a problem when we experience it without any real threat or when we experience it frequently and persistently insofar as it interferes with our health and wellbeing. We react to fears both physically and emotionally. When we are afraid, we experience several physical sensations in our bodies, including shaking and nervousness. The following are a few physical symptoms produced by the fears we experience.

  • Sweating or perspiration
  • Physical and mental tension
  • Palpitation of the heart
  • Shaking of the body and limbs
  • Increased blood flow
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Knots in the stomach
  • Dryness in the mouth and throat
  • Heaviness in the head
  • Lack of hunger
  • Indigestion
  • increased blood pressure
  • Sleeplessness
  • Muscular and bodily tension
  • Restlessness
  • How fear influences our thinking

Fear regulates our lives in many ways. It is always present latently in our minds, even when we are safe, because a threat can surface anywhere and anytime without notice. During our lives, we become so accustomed to our surroundings that we may not even notice our fears when they are under a tolerable threshold. For example, when you walk down a staircase there is fear in the back of your mind, but you will not notice it because the threat is not serious enough. Fear limits our abilities, expectations, aspirations and hopes. Because of fears, we settle for less and compromise with many situations. When we are afraid, we do not negotiate well, feel empowered to protect our interests, defend out rights, or speak for ourselves. It is out of fear that we settle for less and submit to failure when we ought to be persevering to reach our goals. Thus, fear acts like the controller of our consciousness when we ought to be in control, and regulates the pace of our actions, the quality of our lives and state of our minds.

Common responses to fear

The following list contains a few important emotional and behavioral responses people are prone to show under fear. They indicate how fear shapes our lives and behavior and how it limits our abilities, opportunities and potentialities. When they are afraid, people show the following behavior.

  • Stay within their comfort zone and refuse to take chances with new people, things and situations.
  • Hide their true feelings, thoughts, and intentions in front of others, for fear of inviting their disapproval, anger and criticism.
  • Remain stuck in their lives, doing the same job even when there is no satisfaction or opportunity to grow, following the same routine, even if it is boring, and clinging to relationships that are abusive.
  • Do not defend their freedom and their rights.
  • Easily give up.
  • Are easily discouraged.
  • Do not finish what they begin.
  • Lack of initiative.
  • Do not take risks or try new methods and solutions.
  • Constantly underestimate their skills and abilities.
  • Negotiate poorly and settle for less, because of their low expectations and low self-esteem.
  • Sabotage their own lives, by indulging in self-defeating and self-limiting acts.
  • They are constantly haunted by their negative self-talk.
  • Rarely trust others.
  • Feel self-conscious in the presence of others.
  • Think that they do not deserve a better life.
  • Suffer from anxiety and depression

Coping with common fears in your daily life

Our response to fearful situations is conditioned by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and by both rational and irrational causes. Social norms, moral values, our own perceptions, beliefs and early childhood experiences play an important role. Recent studies indicate that even genetic factors may play a role. Prolonged neglect in early childhood, physical and mental abuse, natural calamities, accidents, unexpected injuries and financial losses, the death of near and dear, and similar traumatic experiences leave their lasting influence upon people and shape the way they respond to fear causing situations. However, since our fears are mostly learned responses, and since we can trace their causes, we can manage to control our fears by changing our thinking, attitude and responses. This seemingly simple approach however requires persistent effort before you can expect positive results. The following suggestions are helpful to deal with your fears.

1. Change your responses

You can control your fears, by thinking and responding differently to the situations that produce them. You can do it by paying attention to your habitual thoughts and knowing how you make yourself afraid with your thoughts so that you can think differently and respond differently to similar situations. It takes time, but once you know what thoughts create fear in you and how you make yourself vulnerable to it, you can dispute your own thinking and gain control over your emotions. This approach is based upon the principle that you cannot control external situations that induce fear in you, but you can control your responses to it and manage your fears as well as fearful situations. For example, you can train yourself to remain calm and thoughtful when you face a problem, instead of letting your mind picture the worst and produce negative emotions. You may also learn to dispute your irrational thoughts and beliefs that produce or aggravate fear and think about solutions to deal with it.

2. Practice visualization

While your fears may be produced by external situations, it is in the mind where you have to resolve them primarily and win your battles. You can do it by practicing visualization. It is the easiest and the best technique to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to deal with your worst fears, since it helps you to change your thinking and responses and remain calm when they really happen. With visualization you can create in your mind the exact incidents that trigger your fears and use your imagination to visualize different ends using different responses and approaches. You can also replace your negative emotions with positive ones to build courage and confidence and empower yourself. For example, if you are afraid of speaking in public, visualize yourself speaking confidently in front of a large audience and hearing their appreciation and applause. If you are afraid of negotiating a pay rise, visualize yourself talking to your boss in a confident voice, and with a confident posture, stating the reasons why she should consider the raise. You can use visualization to change your response to any situation that habitually provokes fear in you, by visualizing the fear producing situation first, and visualizing a different response, which in our opinion is the best. Visualization is perhaps the easiest, safest and most effective technique to manage your fears in the very arena of your own mind where your fears are produced. In practicing it, you have the opportunity to bring out your fears into open and learn to deal with them rationally, apart from the freedom to experiment with various responses and outcomes without having to experience them. For best results, you have to make your visualization as realistic as possible, visualizing all sensations and circumstances, including the feelings, and emotions associated with it.

3. Use positive affirmations

Your self-talk is both your friend and enemy: a friend when it motivates and inspires you, and an enemy when it makes you feel anxious and afraid. In fearful and vulnerable situations, you can potentially increase your negativity and weaken your resolve with self-criticism. One of the best ways to deal with the persistent thoughts that arise from negative self-talk in fearful situations is by using powerful positive affirmations that can boost your confidence and empower you to act rationally even in the face of fear. When you hold yourself responsible for any negative situation and when you feel guilty or anxious about it, use affirmations to regain control over your emotions and stay in control. You can also use them to counter your self-deprecating thoughts that aggravate your fears and remain focused upon the solutions, instead of the problems.

4. Stay in the present

Many fears that we experience currently are produced by habitual thoughts and responses that we learned in the past. When we face situations that are similar to the ones that produced fear in the past, we may experience fear again, even if those conditions are not as serious. It is because certain memories remain deeply embedded in our minds and continue to influence our thinking and behavior ever after we become adults. When those memories are triggered by any current events, we tend to react as before and experience similar emotions. It is as if parts of our minds are frozen in the past and did not change with time. We can deal with this problem by analyzing our past, and knowing how we learned to act and react in certain ways. When we become aware of the hidden mental programs that guide our behavior, we can teach ourselves to act and react differently and break free from mental habits and conditioning. When your fears are caused by habitual thought patterns, you can remember that you are no more the person you used to be and the conditions and circumstances governing your life have changed. By affirming this truth repeatedly, you can break free from your past and deal with your current fears with maturity.

5. Practice detachment

When we are mentally attached to things and people, we experience fear and anxiety. The thought of losing them worries us. We react in this manner because of the attachments that we form in our lives. Life is uncertain. Change is the order of life. What we have today, we may lose tomorrow. In this world, no one can correctly predict the future. We cannot take anything for granted, except perhaps death. Regarding it also, we are not sure how and when it may really happen. Therefore, unless you are ready for the uncertainties of life and your eventual separation from everything that you own and love dearly, you will be vulnerable to fear and anxiety. We can cultivate detachment by focusing upon the transient nature of the world in which we live and of the things to which we cling dearly. With the practice of detachment comes the inner freedom from the things that hold you in their grip and make you vulnerable to fear and anxiety. If you practice detachment, you will think clearly without prejudice and emotions, and you will see the world with awareness and understanding.

6. Practice yoga

f you have a problem practicing yoga because of your religious beliefs or convictions, you may skip this suggestion and go to the next. Yoga is the most ancient, but still a very useful and practical method to control your mind and body and experience peace and relaxation. The system of yoga, which was found in ancient India over three thousand years ago, helps you to get rid of the negativity, toxins and impurities present in your mind and body, which prevent you from seeing the world clearly and experiencing peace and happiness. With the practice of yoga, you can learn to stay in control of your thoughts and emotions and perceive the world with greater clarity and understanding. People from various social and religious backgrounds found yoga effective to control their thoughts and emotions and reduce their stress levels. Yoga is not just a traditional method of exercising your body. Its main purpose is to help you to achieve self-control so that you can see the world objectively, without the interference of your desires, beliefs, emotions, feelings, thoughts and memories. It is the tested method to cultivate stability.

The ancient classical yoga offers several techniques such as breath control, mind-control, body postures, concentration and meditation with which you can look into yourself and know more about yourself. By practicing yoga you can calm your nerves, and deal with situations that produce fear and anxiety. There is no magic here. For any problem, the real solution is knowledge. As you gain a deeper knowledge of yourself through concentration and meditation, you learn about your fears and anxieties as well as their causes and remedies. When you find the root causes of your fears you will know what to do with them. Yoga gives you strength to withstand the uncertainties of life by controlling your own thoughts and attitudes. It does not promise to change the world for you, but your own perception and awareness of it, so that you can see the world and you with greater clarity, purpose and wisdom. You may learn more about yoga by reading books about it or practicing it under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.

7. Practice positive thinking

When we are afraid, we inflate our fears by expecting and imagining the worst. In some people, it can happen even with mild fears. It can get worse in some because of negative self-talk. When things go wrong, people lose their sense of reality and mentally enact negative scenarios, expecting the worst to happen. Early childhood experiences can cause persistent negativity in people and induce them to imagine the worst. However, our negativity does not necessarily arise from imagination and exaggerated thinking only. It can also arise from real threats in life, which need to be resolved effectively. It is difficult to foresee positive outcomes when the threat is real and when you have seen and experienced negativity from many sides. You cannot easily convince people about the virtues of positive thinking if they have been hurt and harmed in the past by those whom they trusted. Therefore, negativity cannot be considered a problem of thinking and attitude only. It should be addressed appropriately when the threats are real with effective and rational solutions that can restore the balance and create a sense of security. The best antidote to a real fear is quick and timely action. If it is unreal, you have to dispute the irrational beliefs and underlying assumptions with facts and reason. Positive thinking can be cultivated by subjecting negative thoughts and irrational beliefs rational fact check, questioning your assumptions, and seeing possibilities and opportunities in problem situations instead of worst case scenarios. You can also use visualization techniques and positive affirmations to deal with your negative thoughts and imagination.

8. Learn to let go of things

Sometimes, it is very difficult to get rid of the feelings and thoughts associated with our fears. We keep returning mentally to the same thoughts and memories that trigger the fear and find it difficult to forget the whole experience. In most cases, this happens not because of the apparent causes that led to the fear, but deeply hidden attachments, which we form with certain beliefs and notions about ourselves. For example, if you are deeply attached to your own sense of self-importance or your own image in public, you may be unduly worried that the situation which produced the fear may also lower your image and prestige in public.

Thus, our attachments can aggravate our fears or lead to new fears. Fears that result from our attachments usually fall into two categories: fear that we may lose what we love dearly, and fear that we may come into contact with what we detest and dislike. Both create in us fear and anxiety, from mild to severe levels. For example, fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of aging, sickness and disease, fear of poverty and adversity, and fear of rejection are caused by our clinging and attachment. From a worldly perspective we cannot treat all types of clinging alike and simply let go of everything. We need certain things and relationships for our peace, happiness, success and fulfillment. However, at the same time, we cannot hold on to things that make us weak and vulnerable to suffering, anxiety and negativity. For example, many people carry the burden of their past and keep suffering for the situations that happened before. They cannot let go of the negative feelings and emotions associated with them or forgive those who caused them. By forgiving those who harmed us in the past and by accepting our past as a learning experience, we can let go of our unhappy past to get rid of the fears arising from them.

9. Keep yourself healthy and happy

Good health contributes to peace and happiness, while ill health can lead to depression, fear and anxiety. A healthy body contributes to a healthy mind and a healthy mind to a healthy body. Some of the fears people experience in their daily lives are directly related to their health. Presently, in many parts of the world life has become increasingly complex. For many people, prolonged ill health means loss of their jobs and a certain decline in their living standards. This is especially true in case of those who depend entirely upon their physical strength to earn their livelihood, since even a minor health problem can result in loss of income, fear and insecurity for them. The same holds true in case of many skilled workers who cannot survive without a regular job. In present day society, where competition is acute and companies are primarily focused upon profit, and where old family values have perished, people's livelihood and living standards very much depends upon their health and earning capacity. Thus, health problems are a major source of fear, worry and anxiety in the present day world. Old age also brings in its wake its own problems, as old people find it increasingly difficult to stay healthy and competitive and meet the expectations of their employers. None can escape from aging or the health problems resulting from aging. We cannot also completely avoid health problems or the prospects of ill health. However, we can minimize the health risks to which we are exposed by cultivating clean habits, eating healthy food, following a healthy lifestyle, keeping our minds active and healthy, and going for regular medical checkups.

10. Take action and resolve your problems in time

Ravi, a friend of mine kept complaining about pain in his left arm for several days, but did not go to the emergency until the problem became acute. He hesitated because he was afraid of going through the medical tests and facing the reality that might eventually emerge. A few days later, he had a massive heart attack and had to be admitted in emergency. The best antidote to any fear is facing it and taking timely action. Many fears, which arise from real problems in our lives need to be resolved in time. They cannot be neglected, postponed, or wished away, since the delay can lead to other problems. Take an inventory of the problems that you have either postponed or neglected so far because you do not want to deal with them or afraid of dealing with them, and see what you can do about them. It is the best way to deal with your fears and build confidence and self-esteem.

11. Accept yourself unconditionally

If you frequently suffer from self-doubt and negative self-talk and do not feel good about yourself or your abilities, you will not be able to deal with your fears confidently. Those who face a lot of criticism in their early lives become fearful by nature. They suffer from persistent doubts about their abilities and competence, and prefer avoiding situations that produce fear and anxiety rather than facing them. Low self-esteem puts a dent upon one's abilities and self-confidence. Those who suffer from it also indulge in self-sabotage, since they believe that they do not deserve success and happiness or they cannot manage success and happiness. Such people prefer living in their comfort zones rather than venture out and take a few risks to better their lives. Hence, it is necessary that you unconditionally accept yourself and not subject yourself to cruel self-criticism and negative self-talk, even when you fail and falter. When you make mistakes, you have to forgive yourself, while you may learn from them, and give yourself a chance to be happy and successful. If you are prone to low self-esteem, you have to keep affirming to yourself that you deserve a better life and you are good at whatever you do. Occasional failures and setbacks should not stop you from facing your fears and taking necessary action.

Fear is the most dominant emotion in our lives. It is part of our survival instinct. Many emotions that we experience are indeed variations of fear only. Therefore, accept your fear as a part of your identity and consciousness, without feeling guilty or inadequate. Know that you cannot eliminate fear from your mind, but can only proactively manage your fears by thinking about them and responding to them differently.

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