Living in a bubble of fear is difficult. The constant worry of “what ifs” drive your decisions, leaving you living life to the minimum.
It’s not that you don’t have ambitions and dreams; it’s just that going for them is extremely scary. And understandably so. Feeling out of control of the future is daunting.
But while fear protects you from harm, it also creates a barrier between you and success. Because you have to play the game if you want the chance to win.
So, how can you learn to stop living with fear and start embracing life with open arms?
What causes us to live with fear?
I’m sure you remember the fight or flight concept from school, but just in case, here is a quick refresher.
Way back when Deliveroo didn’t exist, and our ancestors had to scavenge for their food in the wild, they constantly faced life-threatening situations. Everything from wild animals to poisonous berries to threatening rival tribes ready to attack for their resources. And so, they had to stay super vigilant at all times. After all, their life was in jeopardy a lot of the time.
Luckily for us, everyday life is pretty safe these days, so we don’t need to be on the lookout every two seconds. But genetic evolution takes longer than technological advancements, meaning we still live with the residual fear anxieties of the past.
And what do you do when you don’t have to look around every corner for a rogue sabre-toothed tiger? You find new potential threats to be afraid of. Cue your fear of a typo in an email!
The damaging consequences of letting fear rule your life
Left unchecked, fear can cause devastating effects beyond just feeling scared.
Fear causes a great deal of emotional stress, which in turn releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol causes adrenaline to start pumping excessively through the body, leaving you on edge. As cortisol stays in the body for a while, prolonged exposure to fear and stress give cortisol more time to wreak havoc on your body.
Excess cortisol is linked to high blood pressure, heart problems, and obesity, among other things, meaning that fear can cause severe physical illness if not kept in check.
But there is always time to start to deal with your fear and stop it from ruining your life and your body.
Ten steps to stop living with fear
What are you afraid of?
First thing’s first, you need to get to the bottom of what you are afraid of that is holding you back. Otherwise, how could you possibly start to work on it?
Grab your favourite journal, favourite pen, and favourite hot beverage and get yourself comfortable. It’s writing time.
Start freewriting about what scares you. Delve deep into your fears. What drives them? How do they make you feel? How do you tend to react to each situation?
You’ll probably find it hard to know what to write to begin with but persevere. Eventually, words will start free-flowing as you begin to feel more comfortable putting your feelings down.
You might find doing this over a few different sessions works better for you – experiment and do what feels right!
And remember, there’s no right or wrong thing to write; it’s completely personal and confidential.
Face the facts
Once you’ve gotten all your thoughts out onto paper, it’s time to start working on them to help reduce your fear.
Go through your journal and highlight the different fears you have written. For example, you might have put “I’m scared that if I speak up in meetings, people will laugh at me because I’m not smart enough.”
For each fear, write down any factual evidence that supports your fear. For example, has anyone laughed at you in a meeting before? How do you know you are not smart enough? You got the job, so what proof do you have that you aren’t good enough to share your thoughts in a meeting?
You’ll find that the more you do this exercise, the more you realise your fears aren’t based on actual threats but the way you perceive yourself and the world around you.
Ok, it’s time to start some practical steps to combat your fear. Affirmations are a great place to begin.
Choose your biggest fear (maybe a lot of your fears have a common theme, such as a fear of rejection, failure, or not being good enough?).
Once you’ve chosen, find an affirmation that works for you.
Then, every morning, repeat the affirmation to yourself in the mirror ten times before you start your day.
Fear strikes us when we start thinking too much about the future. Possibilities, outcomes, and uncertainties.
To combat this, it’s a good idea to focus on being more present in your daily life. And one of the best ways we know how is to practice mindfulness.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. You aren’t limited to just meditation, so find a mindfulness method that appeals to you and try it.
And don’t worry. If that method doesn’t work, keep trying different ones – there is a mindfulness solution out there for you!
If you’re hoping that you can wake up one morning and be fearless, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Lasting change takes time and patience.
Prepare to make small daily changes towards living without fear so you can make sustainable changes.
TIP: Think of the smallest thing you can do today to tackle your biggest fear and then make it smaller. That’s how you will make your change increments.
For example, if you fear going outside to run because you are worried people will watch and judge you, find the smallest thing you can do to start. What is that? Put on your running gear. That’s it. Once you get more comfortable, you can slowly start to build on it.
Find a “brave buddy”
You don’t have to do this alone. Find a loved one to help you face your fears. They can help you either by role-playing possible scenarios or attending panic-inducing places or events with you.
Try new things
When you let fear stop you from trying new things, it wins. Avoidance is the number one way to tell your brain it was right to be scared of the place/person/situation you are avoiding.
A great way to combat this is to put yourself in new situations where you have no idea what is going to happen. The more you place yourself in unfamiliar scenarios, the more comfortable you get, allowing you to fear them less.
Focus on your purpose
There is a reason you want to face your fears. You have ambitions that have no place for them.
Keep those dreams at the forefront of your mind to remind yourself why you are putting yourself through this uncomfortable process of change.
Reach out to a therapist
Sometimes, the underlying causes of fear are too big for us to handle on our own. And that’s ok. If you feel overwhelmed and need someone to help you, get in touch with a psychotherapist.
The NHS has great mental health services all across the UK.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
Fighting fear takes practice. And it’s not going to go away by itself. The best way to tackle your fear is to face it head-on, one bit at a time.
There are two main objectives here:
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Build trust in yourself that no matter what happens, you are strong enough to face it.
You’ll never learn to lose your fear if you keep avoiding it, so show your fear who is boss and show up.
It doesn’t matter if you’re sweating, about to vomit, and shaking. You showed up. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.
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