Overcoming fears

I have a fear of something and I want to face that fear to overcome it, but I don't know how. What can I do?

Cory Ian Shafer LPC
Cory Ian Shafer LPC
Psychotherapist, Jungian, Hypnotherapy

Fears are not that difficult to deal with, first you need to train yourself to relax using some relaxation strategy, once you are able to employ that in your daily life, you then need to start facing your fear, for instance I'll use an example of a man who has a fear of driving over a bridge. We would build a hierarchy of fears, that is a list of fears ranging from least to most, for example the man may want to start by looking at a picture of a bridge while employing his relation technique, then he may want to see a real bridge from a distance while employing that same relaxation technique, then moving closer to the bridge, then maybe standing on a bridge, all the while moving closer to his fear while relaxing, until you come to most fearful proposition which is crossing that bridge, or you can also engage in flooding which is for example, if you were scared of an elevator, go into an elevator until you are not panicking anymore, in the movie Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne who has a great fear of bats, goes into this cave and allows himself to be surrounded by bats until he is no longer fearful of them. Secondly, look at your fears, do they even need to be worked on, some fears are healthy, for example if i was a therapist in New York City and someone came to me and said "I'm scared of snakes", I would probably say that is OK because there are very little snakes left in Manhattan

Hope that helps

C

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Kellie Spear, LCMHC, LMFT
Kellie Spear, LCMHC, LMFT
Compassionate online support & encouragement

Everyone has fears. Whatever your fear is it can be helpful to breakdown the thing that creates anxiety or fear into small steps. For instance, let's say you are afraid of speaking in public. If your goal would be to one day speak to a room of people, you would start by creating a list of lesser fears that would eventually lead to the main fear of speaking in public. You could start your list with things that might be less anxiety-producing such as, asking for help at a store or speaking up in class or at work if something is bothering you. As you build-up to what you fear the most you will have taken baby steps while assessing whether or not what you feared most was as bad as you thought it would be. If it wasn't, that will help boost your confidence and help move you to the next step. This is called an exposure hierarchy and it is something you can do on your own or with the help of a counselor. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

I think it's super brave to want to face your fears, so you are already moving in a great direction!

No matter if your fear is something rational (e.g., fear of spiders), or something that seems irrational (e.g., fear of clocks), there is always a reason your brain has considered the thing you fear to be a threat.  Having a fear of spiders makes sense because in evolutionary terms, we need to fear things that could harm us.  On the other hand, fearing clocks may seem irrational without context; however, if you experienced something traumatic while listening to the ticking of a clock throughout the event, your brain may equate clocks with danger.  

The reason for this is clear in much of the neuroscience research we have available.  In our brains we have amygdalae, which are basically just the "watch dogs" of the brain.  They are incredibly good at scanning our environment for any threats, whether or not we perceive those threats as rational because this part of the brain does not operate via logic--and it shouldn't.  If we sense danger because there's a bear in our presence, we don't need logic to survive--we need to just respond in ways that keep us safe.  If something really terrifying happens to us, our brains burn that all that information into the amygdalae, including any peripheral information.  This is why we can fear things that really aren't innately scary, like clocks.

Moving through something you fear isn't easy.  It can be very emotionally difficult and feel pretty awful.  The good news is working with fears is one of the most researched areas of psychology and there are many evidence-based techniques that can help.

One of the best techniques for changing the brain's response is exposure.  This technique involves exposing yourself, little by little, to the very thing you fear.  The reason this is so effective is because the amygdalae can only learn via experience.  If you avoid what you fear, that teaches your brain that that object or situation is dangerous, and over time that only strengthens the fear.  Conversely, if you expose yourself to something you fear and sit through a full fear response, eventually your anxiety returns to your baseline which sends the message that the object or situation is not dangerous.

To begin with exposure, first it's important to have some mindfulness techniques built up.  This can be deep breathing, muscle tension/relaxation, etc.  It's important to know that this is in place for relaxation, not to distract from the exposure process because you really want to feel that anxiety to "wake up" the amygdalae--your brain can't learn a new response if you distract from the anxiety.  There's countless videos and recordings on youtube, as well as apps like Calm or Headspace that can teach some of those techniques.

Next you can create a fear hierarchy.  Start with things connected to your fear that serve as triggers, but don't completely overwhelm you.  For example, if you have a fear of spiders you may start with pictures of spiders, then videos, then fake plastic spiders, seeing a spider in person, and finally touching a spider (non-poisonous).  This is a very simple list--some people have many, many triggers associated with their fears and that's normal.  When you have your list, you can scale each trigger by how much anxiety it gives you.  So on a scale from 1-100, if seeing pictures of spiders puts you at a 60, then your goal for that part of the hierarchy is to cut it in half to 30 (meaning you cut your anxiety in half).  Sometimes this can take multiple exposures with the same trigger, though exposure is very powerful and tends to be a much quicker process than most people think.  

I know this is a lot of information to take in and I hope it all makes sense!  It's not all you can do, but it's so effective.  And of course it is best when you are getting assistance from a counselor (if you feel that you need that kind of support).  A counselor would be able to actually do some in-session mindfulness and exposure techniques with you (depending on the fear) to help prepare you for doing it on your own.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

Your fear may have deeper roots within your sense of who you are, than you realize.   Fears are sometimes irrational so that logic doesn't get rid of them.

Think about whether you felt secure and confident as a child.  Also, did any major bad events happen to you with other people or situations when you were growing up?

Often these overwhelming situations of childhood stay with us as fears of situations in our adult lives.  If the root of the problem w the fear is from long ago, then probably a therapist who can ask you questions which help you remember upsetting childhood circumstances, may help you to dissolve the current fear.

Another possibility is CBT, cognitive behavior therapy which teaches people short term mantras to do something which is safe, say being a passenger in a commercial airplane, which feels frightening to a person.

CBT is short term and results are limited to specific fears.  

It is a much quicker approach than self-understanding.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Alison Repp
Alison Repp
Anxiety specialist offering short-term therapy for lifelong vitality

Fear is a part of life. In fact, our five main emotions are joy, fear, sadness, shame, and anger. We tend to spend a lot of time and energy running away from or trying to get rid of most of those emotions and the more we do that, the more we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. 

As a result of viewing our human emotions as "bad" or "wrong," we often get caught up in a trap of thinking we have to overcome them or get rid of them before we can do what matters to us. In reality, you can do what is important to you while having your fears! 

My question for you is, what would you do if this fear was completely gone? What behaviors would you have if you were the ideal you? What skills, knowledge, or personal qualities would you develop? What kind of relationships would you have?

I imagine your fear has kept you from achieving those goals because your mind tells you you can't do it until the fear is gone. I challenge you to do the following exercise:

  1. What is a goal you would like to achieve? Example: I would like to change careers
  2. What actions are necessary to complete this goal? Example: see a career counselor to determine my ideal career, go back to school/get a certification, network with others in my desired industry
  3. What thoughts, feelings, or urges might get in my way? Example: thoughts of "What if I fail? I'm not smart enough. I can't do it. I'm too busy to put energy into this." Feelings of fear, shame, excitement. Urges to distract myself through drinking or watch tv instead of taking action.
  4. It would be helpful to remind myself that: example: It is natural to have these thoughts, feelings, and urges but I can take action anyway. I deserve to have a fulfilling life.
  5. The smallest and easiest step I can take now: example: research career counselors in my area and write down their phone numbers
  6. The time, day and date that I will take that first step, is: example: Tonight at 7pm 
At least think through these answers but it is most beneficial to write them down. I hope this helps!
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
I tailor my therapeutic approach to each client's strengths and goals

This answer could be very different depending on the fear, the degree of it, and what it connects to.

I wonder the following:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how upset, anxious, or scared to you get when you think about overcoming this? If it's more than a 5/10, I would definitely recommend talking with a therapist in your area.
  • A lot of fears that we have come from something that at one time was self-protective and important. Do you know where your fear started? If you think it is still protecting you or helping you in some way, talk with someone (like a therapist) about it.
  • If it is something that you know is irrational (for example, fear of being hurt by static cling from winter clothing), is there some part of that that you are not afraid of?
  • I really encourage you to consider whether your fear has a lot of emotions connected to it or if it ties from something in your past that was very emotional for you at the time. If it does, consider working with a therapist to establish emotional safety before taking away the fear or anxiety that may actually be helpful to you.
  • Also, the fact that you notice that you are afraid of something and you don't want to be afraid of it anymore is a big step in the forward direction.
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal, as if you want to hurt or kill yourself or someone else, or are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), call 911, or proceed to your local emergency room.
Kristi King-Morgan, LMSW
Kristi King-Morgan, LMSW
Social Worker, Psychotherapist

Biologically, fear is designed to protect us from harm. Fear is not always a bad thing, and in fact can be quite healthy and appropriate depending on the situation. 

A phobia, however, is different. You used the term "fear" rather than "phobia". A phobia is an irrational fear - meaning it is not rational for you to fear that thing. If your situation is a phobia, exposure therapy can help. This consists of gradually exposing yourself a little at a time to the thing you are afraid of. Some people with phobias find that the irrational fear interferes with their life and they do need to overcome it. Someone who is afraid to drive over bridges may go to great lengths to avoid routes that have bridges. People who are afraid of elevators may always use the stairs instead, which may not always be feasible. If overcoming a phobia will improve the quality of your life, then by all means, seek professional help to overcome it.

Everyone has fears, or things that make them nervous. Public speaking, asking a person out, fear of failure. Examine what your fear is and try to determine the reason for the fear. When you can get to the root cause of the fear, you can deal with that issue. A lot of times, it is a self-esteem issue. You may be able to peel back the layers of the fear and find out what's causing it and deal with the real issue. 

Some fears are caused by trauma. Someone with PTSD is going to have an exaggerated fear response and will find themselves being kicked into "fight or flight" mode over things that someone without the trauma experience wouldn't notice or react to. In cases like this, exposure therapy would be the wrong approach and could actually make things worse. If there is a possibility that a past trauma is the cause of your fear, I strongly urge you to seek a therapist - not just any therapist, but one who is trained to work with trauma and abuse victims.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Robin Landwehr, DBH, LPCC, NCC
Robin Landwehr, DBH, LPCC, NCC
Mental Health in a Primary Care Setting

Hello, and thank you for your question. Overcoming fears is something that everyone struggles with at one time or another. Sometimes we come across something that scares us, we push through it and suddenly we aren't afraid anymore. But sometimes it can seem like our fears just take over and we cannot overcome them. There are some options:

1. You can go to a counselor and receive some type of treatment. What kind of treatment would depend on the type of fears you are experiencing. For example, if you have a general phobia about something, they may use various techniques to help you manage it. 

2. There are different websites and even some self-help books that you can use to try to overcome your fears. When it comes to overcoming certain fears or phobias, exposure therapy well-studied and proven to work. A therapist would help you with this, but some websites give instructions for how to do it yourself. I am not sure how well it works when you try it by yourself, but here is a link to a website that does offer some tools. http://psychology.tools/anxiety.html

Some colleagues may offer you some other types of advice. Be well.

Robin J. Landwehr, DBH, LPCC, NCC

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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