Fear has always played a big part in my life, unfortunately.
I had many fears growing up, including being late (I was known for constantly asking my mom, teachers and friends what time it was), being alone (thank goodness I had sisters!), or change of any kind.
But, my biggest fear as I grew older? Failure.
I’m sure many of you can relate to the fear of failing. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but I truly believe my fear, worry and anxiety around failure actually has a lot to do with my successes – and for that, I am grateful. But if I’m being honest with myself, fear has controlled way too many decisions in my life.
While I do my best to include some lightheartedness in every blog post, this one may get a little heavy here soon … Fair warning for what’s ahead!
Within the last few years, I’ve lived the highest highs and the lowest lows I’ve ever known. I’ve experienced tragic loss and painful grief, but also discovered a new level of love inside of me that I didn’t know I was capable of. These experiences—the good and the bad—have brought me to where I am today. But these experiences, specifically those that were tragic, ignited a level of fear inside of me that I’ve never felt …
Not just the fear of failing or the fear of being late, but I felt plagued by intense, irrational fears. For example, for a week or so, I was scared to walk my dog alone in the evenings for fear of being attacked, hurt or even killed (a little irrational, I know … But I couldn’t control those thoughts!). Where did this fear come from? I, along with my therapist, identified that it was how I was processing loss + the additional stressors in my life at the time.
And while that explanation makes so much sense to me, these borderline-irrational fears have seemed to follow me for a lot longer than I expected. There was even a day where I made myself physically sick over the fact that I thought I left my stovetop on while at work. Spoiler alert: I asked my step-mom to go to my house and check the stove … And it was off.
This intensified fear had started to negatively affect the quality of my life. And while I am still working through this phase, I am determined to conquer it.
So, I’ve been reading up on facing fears and fear + anxiety recently, and I’ve compiled these five facts that have helped me to start overcoming this challenging time of my life.
- Fear is a part of our survival kit. By definition, fear is a response to a perceived threat. Fear activates our fight-or-flight response by stimulating the hypothalamus, which directs the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system to prepare our bodies for danger. Basically, since the beginning of time, fear has kept us alive … Literally. So, fear is instinctual and we all feel it in our lives.
- Anxiety is a type of fear. Sure, this sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve honestly never linked these two feelings so closely. Anxiety is a word used by health professionals when they’re describing persistent fear – how you feel when you’re frightened and anxious are very similar, as the basic emotion is the same. So, anxiety-prone folks like myself are much more likely to experience higher feelings of fear (*lightbulb!*). With that being said, tactics to overcome anxiety and panic can also help tackle fear. I finally saw positive progress with my fearfulness after I re-focused on what I know helps with my anxiety levels: regular exercise, nutrient-rich foods, quality sleep, regularly taking my medication, and mindfulness.
- Get to know your fears. Instead of avoiding your fears and pushing them to the side, dig deep to find the root of these worries. Start by asking yourself how you got to this feeling, followed by determining the next steps you will take to move forward. Getting to know your fears deeply may actually soften them.
- Facing fears is really, really hard … But also really, really worth it. Per The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (highly recommend investing in a copy!), continuing to avoid a situation that frightens you, more than anything else, is what keeps the fear alive. No, this doesn’t mean curing your fear of heights by going skydiving tomorrow (unless that’s your thing). But, while facing a situation you’ve been avoiding may seem impossible, it can be made more manageable by breaking it down into smaller steps. Start small and gradually work your way up. For instance, I’m an anxious driver, especially on crowded highways that include bridges. While I’m still working toward conquering this obstacle in my life, I take the highway to work every morning as a way of de-sensitizing myself to this experience that I’ve begun to dread. So, every weekday morning is a reminder that worry does not control me, and I can do this.
- You don’t have to face your fears alone. Last, but certainly not least, you’re not in this alone. Tap into your support system—your tribe, your therapist, or maybe just your partner—and don’t hesitate to lean on them, open up and ask for help.
While there is no immediate cure to feeling bogged down by constant worry, fear and anxiety, I’m done letting fear rule my life. How about you?
Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.