Whether it’s large crowds or air travel, most of us avoid the source of our fears like the plague. We’ll pass up the chance to see our favorite musician play a packed concert venue or we’ll opt to drive cross-country rather than hop on a plane. But should we do the opposite?
Fear is the body's alarm system — it’s an innate emotional response to a perceived personal threat. These are natural feelings that often help to keep you alive by alarming you to danger. There are two different types of alarms, panic and anxiety, both of which are adaptive. Immediate threats activate the panic alarm, while anticipating a threat sometime in the future involves the anxiety alarm.
Getting over a fear is an active process that requires learning and retraining the brain. Essentially, you are training higher-level brain areas to overcome signals from areas like the amygdala so that you can put threats into a more realistic context.
If we avoid everything that makes us anxious it can hold us back and lead to more problems. Avoiding things we fear makes our fears get bigger in our mind. Facing our fears can help make us stronger.
Should I be scared?
Sometimes our imaginations can run away with themselves. That doesn't make the feelings this causes any less real, but we shouldn't let fear control our lives.
Get as many real facts and information as you can about the scary thing then ask yourself:
Are my fears based on fact, or just what I think might happen?
What's the worst that could happen - is that really likely?
It's also important to realise what steps people take to keep themselves safe in situations that could be dangerous.
For example, heights are scary because we might fall. Climbers use ropes and wear safety gear to reduce the risks of falling and getting injured.
How can I face my fears?
Every time we face up to a fear, its hold over us gets weaker.
Here are some steps you can try:
Relax, be calm.
If you're in the grip of feeling scared about something, It's really hard to think clearly. Take time out to calm down - you could try a relaxation exercise.
Talk about it.
Try talking about your fear with someone you know and trust.
Talking about your fears often shrink them down to a size we can deal with.
Take small steps.
Think about how you could break it down into more manageable chunks. If you're scared of crowds, for example, you could try finding a small crowd to be in for a little while - like a queue at a supermarket checkout. Then, you could move on to being in the lunch queue at school. Once you've accomplished that, you could try going to a bigger event.
What if I still get scared?
Your fear might never disappear completely, but if you keep trying you will learn how to manage it.
Underneath your fears lie great opportunities. Because when you start doing the things that scare you the most, tearing down the invisible barriers that separate you from the good life, you become the person you’ve always dreamed about in your mind: your ideal self.
That means finding your courage is a life-changing decision. Fear will always be around to tell you what you can’t do—it’s up to you to face your fears, and tell yourself that you can!