How To Overcome Your Biggest Fears In 7 Manageable Steps

Photo: Unsplash: Chris Benson
How To Get Rid Of Anxiety By Overcoming Your Biggest Fears

Overcoming fear isn't easy. In fact, just thinking about trying to get rid of your anxiety by facing your biggest fears can be enough to make you feel downright terrified.

And while a fear of snakes or spiders might not hold you back in life, fears of things like commitment or flying could keep you from pursuing your dreams and finding true happiness, which is why learning how to overcome them is essential to living your best life.

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Fear is a basic human emotion intended to keep us safe. When we’re afraid, there’s often a good reason.

Back in the day, that fear would keep us from being eaten by tigers or getting too close to a dangerous fire. To stay alive, we needed to respond properly to threats and the fear that went with them.

The threats are different now, but we still respond with built-in skills. Things seem scarier these days. There’s so much we can’t control and so many unknowns threats, and the fear they bring can quickly feel overwhelming.

Like Mother Teresa, you can work on changing the triggering fear factors, but that’s difficult and can take a lifetime of effort without ever making much progress. Shutting out the world to escape or minimize the triggers cuts us off from each other and all the rest of the good stuff.

You do have a choice. You can stay scared, or you can try to overcome your fears.

I get it. Some things are just too scary to handle, and trying to change that isn't worth the added anxiety it would cause.

For example, my wife fears flying in airplanes for her own good reasons. The convenience of air travel isn't always worth the stress and anxiety it causes her, and when I respond to her fear with statistics about air travel safety, it doesn't really help anyone.

That said, if you do feel ready and want to know how to get rid of your anxiety by overcoming your biggest fears, here are 7 manageable steps you can take starting now.

1. Ask for empathy

Empathy from someone who cares for you is huge when it comes to your fear. It takes courage to share our fears with someone else, even someone who’s close to us, because of doubts about the other person’s response to our fear.

Will they see you as needy? Will they think your fear is silly? This is someone who says they care for you! What if you share my fear and they just laugh in your face? Empathy from someone of really cares can crush your doubt.

If you want empathy from someone who cares for you, use these words: "I know you care for me, and I want you to understand something about me that makes me really scared, but when I tell you this, I also want you to show me that you understand my fear and most importantly be judgment-neutral about it. Will you do that for me?"

Understanding you without judgment is how someone who cares can give you empathy when you share your fear. You deserve to be cared for by someone (by many people, in fact) who can do that for you.

And, doing this with someone who's empathetic is great practice for when the actual scary triggers happen in real life.

2. Re-envision your fears as a tool

There’s a reason you feel scared and you can ask for judgment-neutral empathy for your fear, which gives you safety to talk more about why you are afraid.

When you remember that your human fear response is built-in, you can talk about how your fear keeps you safe.

Sometimes, the reasons for fear are obvious, like encountering a hungry tiger. Other times, the fear we feel about something might be hiding a bigger danger. When we accept our physiological response — the thing we feel as fear — and give ourselves a chance to investigate what this feeling is trying to tell us, the results can be surprising.

As you talk about the fear, in safety, you can be a bit more objective and maybe a bit curious — more so than if you were trying to face that fear of a tiger in the wild. It’s like a test-drive of some new skill in your very own avatar.

3. Use your fears to dig deep

Like a martial artist, the stress and anxiety that come along with your fear become the fuel that powers you as you wield your new fear-busting skill. You use that skill to discover the meaning of your fear.

Yes, that's right, the meaning of your fear. This is only a test, right? Your empathetic, judgment-neutral friend has your back. It's safe to talk about what scares you and, while the fear is still there, the real-life trigger isn't.

A loose, hungry tiger is a clear fear. It’s easy to understand the danger. That’s the meaning of tiger fear. But what about more complex fears, like being scared of flying? Or all those fears other people tell you are "irrational"?

Remember, your fear is a tool, and the energy in that scary feeling powers that tool. Your job is to make meaning of the fear, dig into what you feel to understand yourself better, and find the meaning in why you feel afraid.

It's not pleasant but fear is a powerful energy so use it! Tell yourself, "Even though I’m here in safety with someone who shows me empathy, I’m also so scared, and I want to discover the meaning in this fear!"

Often, that simple desire is enough to unlock meaning in fear. Why? Because it's safe to want to know why. You faced your fear — in your imagination — in a safe, empathetic way that can open up new possibilities for what the fear is telling you.

The meaning of that fear is now available to you. Now "the airplane might crash" is just one possibility and not the only outcome.

RELATED: Overcome Fear In 5 Easy Steps

4. Practice: wash, rinse, and repeat

Please be gentle with yourself. You may not find the whole meaning in your fear all at once, so if you feel a sense of incompletion after you explore your fear, that’s meaning, too!

It means that you’ve started the process of digging in, but there’s more work to do. Congratulate yourself, but please don’t push yourself if you need a rest. Rest is so important!

This practice takes time because the expectations of our instant-on era don’t always allow us to accomplish this work in ways that serve us best. There's a temptation to think we’ve failed if we don’t hit a home run every time we swing at a fear fastball but don't be tempted to give up — in this work, it’s all good.

There are no penalties for striking out.

Take a breath and know that you can pick up the fear tool again when you’re ready — later today, tomorrow, next month, it’s up to you. This process — asking for empathy, deploying your skills, and finding the meaning — is one you can practice to hone your skills. That's how it works.

5. Experiment with mindfully triggering your fears

As you practice the first four tips, your skills will all begin to feel natural to you. Practice does that, as athletes and combat warriors, dancers, actors, and performers, artists and salespeople, and even accountants, coders, and analysts can tell you.

You begin to feel those skills build in and become automatic, accurate, and infallible. Practice gets us closer to perfection, but it doesn't take perfection to deal effectively with fear! In time, you will be able to deploy your skills without the effort of thinking about them. It isn't exactly real life, but the practice of skillful action under controlled circumstances prepares us to meet real life with a confident edge.

So, now that you’ve spent time practicing and while you are still in safety, give yourself a test: trigger a specific fear. Thanks to other built-in skills like imagination, it’s easy to do this. But, because you practiced, it’s possible that just imagining yourself in a situation that triggers the fear is no longer enough, which means your skills are getting powerful.

When imagination isn't enough to trigger your fears, you can use an outside trigger that's still quite safe.

For example, you can easily trigger fear with music. Find a piece of music that scares you, a safe place to listen, and let that music play. When fear hits, practice your skills.

If you’re more a visual person, watch a movie that scares you in the same way as the fear you want to overcome.

You can get creative! Provided that a safe situation can trigger you, you’re doing it right. Then ... practice those skills again!

6. Deal with your fears in real life

Even if you’ve found great success becoming ultra-rich or living a highly disciplined life, it's hard to be successful at avoiding fear over the course of your everyday life. Billionaires and the Dalai Lama have their own issues and fears to face.

But, practice helps and when you feel proficient triggering your fear in safety, you’re ready to try out a real-life trigger.

Working up to this point might take time, so continue to be gentle with yourself. For example, people who are afraid of flying can add flying lessons to their practice. Your fear is the energy you need to become pilots and practice can cause your fear to lose its debilitating grip.

What’s the trigger for your fear in real life? How will you respond when life triggers you with that fear? Let your imagination walk through this encounter and deploy your new skills, which are now becoming built-in, to meet the imagined real-life trigger.

Observe your imagination’s response. Do you feel that you’ve uncovered the true meaning in your fear? Do you have a strong grip on that fear and its meaning? Ramify this process, and notice that, as you repeat your imaginary encounter, your training begins to automatically adapt to meet the threat.

When you feel ready, take your practice into a real-life situation. If it feels right, ask your empathetic friend to accompany you. It won’t be hard to find the trigger out there in the world but, like a trained warrior, you’re ready to meet it.

Your friend can provide cover and safety if you need to retreat, but there’s a much better chance that you’ve got this. You’ve done the work. You’re ready.

7. Share what you learn with others

When you've understood that there's no real magic in overcoming fear, you know that having a skillful response to fear is how human beings survive and thrive.

The truth is that, once a fear is overcome, new fears show up to take its place, and the process begins again. Practice shortens the time and lessens the effort it takes to respond to those new fears, and there are plenty of unknown triggers in this world to be afraid of! You will begin to welcome that fact, too.

Understand that this practice is the very opposite of what you may see in the media. Instead of becoming more and more fearful and being sucked into doing things that break things and hurt people (including yourself), this practice strengthens your very natural ability (to overcome your fear) without first having to change the world.

These days, that's a good thing.

Is it fun? It can be, especially when you teach others how to overcome their fears.

Some of the most rewarding moments in my life have happened when a student lights up in either understanding or empathy.

Teach someone what you now know about how to overcome fear with these tips, and watch what happens. A small positive change in the world around you is still a change in the world.

Think carefully. You may already know how to overcome your fears. These skills are built-in, and they improve with practice.

RELATED: 4 Ways To Overcome A Debilitating Fear Of Commitment

Bill Protzmann is a speaker and life coach on a mission to raise awareness about the power of music as self-care. Want to join the music care movement? Visit his website or sign up for lessons.

This article was originally published at Practical Heart Skills. Reprinted with permission from the author.