Have you ever experienced fear so intense you felt paralyzed? I’ll admit, I have many fears – some old, some new. Fear of heights, fear of failure, fear of never meeting my own expectations in life… I have been able to move past many of my fears, while others stick around and new ones develop.
How do we face our fears? Depending on the type of fear and our emotional state, we may be able to face our fears head on. On a whim – just do it! Parachuting out of an airplane may be an example. Once you jump, there’s no turning back. Even if you are paralyzed with fear you are still going to fall through the air.
But, what about those fears that stem from a mental illness and a swarm of negative thoughts? In that case, we must tread more cautiously. We must start by addressing the issues in the mind first in the safety of our home or in a counselors office.
The “just do it” approach will be too intense if a person is dealing with mental health issues. It is important to gradually take steps to face the fears. This is often difficult for a ‘fearless’ parent to understand when his or her child is struggling with what appears to be an irrational fear (in the parent’s mind). The parent may often try to push the child into a feared situation not knowing that there is more going on. Check out this Do Not Fear post for an example from my life.
When I was struggling with social anxiety disorder, once I started getting the help I needed, I found out I first had to figure out what thoughts were causing my intense social fear and begin to develop positive thoughts. I also needed to become familiar with tools I could use when the fears took over in social settings. The tools I began to learn were now in my toolbox and I could carry them with me wherever I went. Check out my free Simple Steps to Minimize Anxiety tip card.
Then the key to facing my fears became focused on gradual exposure to the feared situations – starting with the least feared situation and moving up the ladder. Did the fear still exist? Yes! But at least I understood what was happening to my body and why. And I could then experience – in real life – the power of the tools as I felt the fear gradually dissipate while I took deep mindful breaths or focused externally. I accepted that I experienced fear and stopped fighting it. Once I could move through the fear, I could see there was nothing to fear at all.
In what ways have you been able to face a fear in your life? What tools have been helpful to you?