We all experience fear a few times a day. It’s normal. At a low rate, fear is manageable. However, when we let fear take over our life and rule it, we no longer have control. So, if we could understand fear better, we could conquer it.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize our feelings (level 1) and manage them (level 2).
Beyond that are the ability to recognize other’s feelings (level 3), then help and support them in recognizing and managing their own feelings (level 4).
People who experience debilitating fear struggle with levels 1 & 2. For them, levels 3 & 4 are near impossible.
Force vs. Power
When we understand fear better, we can manage it more effectively and move forward. This isn’t to scare the fear away. It’s not to ignore it. And it’s not to fight it. We can manage it.
There is a totally different energy to each option. Scaring fear, ignoring it and fighting it come with force. Managing fear comes with power.
Power is a sense of control, whereas forcing a change comes with aggression. It is amazing how much more energy we put in trying to fight fear instead of managing it.
The first rule of fear is:
Fear will always be there. And as long as I’m alive, I’ll be afraid of things.
Phobophobia – Fear of Being Afraid
Fear is very natural and functions as a protective mechanism. Our animal brain is trained to notice danger and is there to protect us from harm. Think of it as an alarm, calling, “Danger! Danger!”
This becomes problematic when we develop a fear of being afraid. Anxiety is a form of fear of an imaginary negative future. Unfortunately, it affects our bodies in a huge physiological way.
We practice anxiety in our heads, although there is no real danger in the outside world. Still, our bodies react to the thought of danger as if it’s real and we truly are at risk.
The second rule of fear is:
In life, there is real fear and perceived fear. We can deal with real fear with logic, planning and action. But we cannot apply logic to perceived fear.
Growing out of fear
We are afraid of different things in every stage of life. Babies and toddlers are scared of separation and strangers. Children fear animals, certain objects, being in the dark and strange sounds. Teens dread social humiliation. Adults have a massive fear of failure.
However, we don’t really know for sure how, or why, we grow out of some fears and into others.
Some kids can grow out of their childhood fears just because they develop critical thinking and learn coping mechanisms to manage their emotions. But teens, and even grownups, don’t just get up fearless one morning.
Many parents ask me how to approach the “monster under the bed”. I tell them not to tell kids that the monster isn’t there, they’re silly and monsters don’t exist. We must become friends with the monster. We shouldn’t scare the monster away. We need to understand it.
This is the same approach we should take to managing our fears.
The third rule of fear is:
Sometimes, we can grow out of a fear. But understanding and becoming friends with our fears will make them easier to manage.
Action gives you control
One of the biggest challenges of dealing with fear is losing control. Fear gains momentum by shutting down important mental and physical functions. The best way to manage loss of control in any situation is to get into “action mode”.
Taking action means feeling the fear and doing something productive anyway. The more actively we move through the fear, the more we tell our mind “Calm down. We are OK. There’s no real threat. I won’t die”. Then, things become easier.
I remember the first time I had to speak in front of an audience. I had challenges with my vocal cords from a very young age and was absolutely terrified of speaking in public. I know that a fear of public speaking is quite common, but adding the potential humiliation due to my voice made it even wore.
I was in total panic. I talked to myself constantly to try and relax. I focused on what I could do to make sure I had the material right, and what could I say if anyone asked me a question, etc.
Every second of it was scary, but I came out of it alive! Hundreds of presentations later, I can confidently tell you that no matter how big or small the presentation, I have a small blip of doubt just before I start, and then, it’s gone.
People often say, “When I feel more confident, I’ll do this”. But it works the other way around. When we do things despite feeling fear, and manage our feelings, we develop confidence.
The fourth rule of fear is:
Action and exposure are the best ways to conquer your fear. Keep the mind busy on what you can do, and your mind won’t be able to get into the primitive brain.
Often, we can connect our feelings of fear to a particular source. But at times, our fears make no sense to us. We get a feeling of tension that blocks us from doing something or creates an urge to do other things. It’s the fight-flight-freeze response that rules our primitive brain.
Researchers believe our fears come entirely from our life circumstances. More specifically, they believe we developed fears because our parents were anxious or fearful during critical developmental periods.
Anxiety and mood disorders in parents are great predictors of the child’s ability to manage his/her feelings. Parents who are angry, stressed, aggressive, depressed, frustrated, critical, neglecting or abusive model for their children unhelpful ways to manage feeling. If parents have no emotional intelligence, how can we expect their children to?
The fifth rule of fear:
We “learn” some fear from our parents. It’s not all the parents’ fault. But it IS the parent’s responsibility to the child to care for themselves.
Conquer your fear of the unknown
Anything new is scary. It’s scary because our minds require time and knowledge to properly process the information. If we only followed our fear and said, “OK, my body is telling me not to do that”, we would never learn to read, walk, talk, etc.
In a baby’s life, most of every day is stepping into the unknown. If we want to evolve, we need to accept change and therefore accept the fear of the unknown.
A good way to manage this fear is to consider change as a movement towards a better version of ourselves. Welcoming change gives us opportunities to grow and experience things that fear would otherwise limit.
The sixth rule of fear:
It’s normal to be afraid of the unknown, but if it affects our behavior and prevents us from enjoying life, it controls us. Like Elsa in the movie Frozen, step into the unknown.
Of all the treatment options available to deal with fear, exposure therapy seems the most effective by far. In exposure therapy, the person is slowly introduced to the object of fear until their body realizes it’s not really under threat.
You can go to a therapist to seek help in doing that, or you can do it to yourself. I admit it’s harder to do yourself, but it is possible. You can try some of the techniques in the book Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway.
When I started my college studies, I had to choose my subjects. I was totally afraid of math, so I chose to become a math teacher! I was really afraid of working with autistic children, so I chose to work in a special needs school. When the supervisor asked me why I chose to do my work experience there, I simply said, “Because I’m afraid to do it”, and she let me.
Yes, it’s hard, but you can do it!
Just so you know, exposure thorough virtual reality also works well. Since your fear is imaginary, every imaginary exposure works.
The seventh rule of fear:
Exposing yourself to the source of your fears makes you braver.
As hard as it is to believe, humans can smell fear. According to a study by Rice University, we can smell when others are afraid, much like animals. Another study by Utrecht University in the Netherlands also claims fear is contagious. This may explain why being in a large group of people running away from something makes us panic too.
We have an incredible ability to mirror the feelings of the people around us. Being around people who are afraid can subconsciously make us feel afraid too, even without knowing why. Others’ fear is contagious.
That’s why they say, “Hang around happy, positive people”. What they feel is also contagious.
The eighth rule of fear:
Hang around people who make you happy, because you can smell fear and happiness keeps fear at bay.
Sleep on it
Fear can prevent you from being able to fall asleep. That’s a problem, because sleep is a good way to deal with fear. When you sleep, your mind rests and stops processing the fear. While you are asleep the body goes through a cleaning process and sorts through some of your fears.
Often, we also find solutions to things we worry about or fear while we sleep. I sometimes say to my kids, “Sleep on it. Tomorrow, everything will look different”, and it works. Sleeping on it is another way of letting go of the thought and not trying to find a solution.
So, next time you find yourself worried about something, sleep on it.
The nineth rule of fear:
If you’re anxious or afraid of something, sleep on it!
It’s important to remember that when we’re afraid, we’re not functioning to our fullest, because fear distorts our perception of reality.
We all have some sort of distorted view of reality. That’s natural. It’s why two people watching the same situation will remember different things. We have filters through which we see the world, and they make sure we see what we train our mind to see.
That’s not an issue. That’s normal.
It becomes dysfunctional when it limits our life. For example, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a reaction to fear. While organizing your table so everything is in line is OK, doing it so much it disturbs your relationships or your livelihood is a problem.
Similarly, many people want to be slimmer than they are. However, if you are skinny and you see a fat person in the mirror, and then you starve yourself, that’s dangerous to your health.
The list of these distortions is long, and they are often considered mental illnesses. All of them are just reactions to fears left unchecked and un-managed.
The tenth rule of fear:
Fear is normal, but when it disturbs your functioning, your relationship or livelihood, it’s dangerous.
Pessimism vs. Optimism
I know that some people consider “optimism” a fancy word, but optimism is another way to conquer your fear.
Pessimism is a fear of the future. When you look to the future and see mostly doom and gloom, you are, in fact, afraid of the future. You create in your mind a picture based on fear.
As I’ve said before, the body reacts to things that are both real and perceived. Pessimism is a fear of a negative perceived future. If your mind immediately goes to “What can go wrong?” you are a pessimist.
If you can do that in a negative, fearful way, you can do it in a positive and optimistic way. Just ask yourself, “What can go right?”
As a person who works with many parents, I can tell you that just changing this mindset can save you a lot of heartache in parenting. Instead of focusing on what can go wrong with your kids, focus on what can go right. Just by changing your lens, you can have happier, healthier, more successful kids!
The eleventh rule of fear:
Optimism is a good way to conquer your fear. When your mind pictures a negative future, recognize that pessimism is YOUR fear and deal with it by asking “What can go right?”
Fear is not the enemy. So, we should not fight it, but manage it. Fear is part of life and we can use it to move forward. It can either be the voice inside of us that teaches us about ourselves and what we need to do in order to grow. Or it can be the thing that blocks us from experiencing life.
The choice is in your hands.
Conquer your fear and live with power!