Learning how to overcome fear in life has been the single most empowering lesson I have learned thus far. While I didn’t learn it as soon as I would have liked, I still have my next 40 years to live with bravery and to leverage my fear into action.
Living with anxiety and panic disorder often means living in fear and scarcity. The fear has many different sources; fear of speaking up, of having another panic attack, of choking while eating in a restaurant.
The list goes on and on for someone who has a generalized anxiety disorder.
And, each one of those fears makes a person feel smaller and smaller. With more walls closing in on them leaving it difficult to step out in front and say “I want to achieve that and I’m going to try”.
It can feel like learning how to overcome fear in life is completely impossible and not worth giving a second thought.
But, the truth is, learning how to overcome fear in life really just means learning how to embrace the fear and use it as power.
Anxiety is not something that you can “control” or “get rid of”. Trust me. I’ve spent 30 years trying and all it got me was more anxiety and a smaller box within which to exist.
But, once I started thinking about holding my fear. Embracing my anxiety and using it as a superpower? That is when I truly was able to start stepping out from behind so many of those walls that I put up around myself and overcome fear in life.
What is the true meaning of fear?
The dictionary definition of fear is “an emotion that is caused by anxiety or the unsettling feeling of being afraid of someone or of something”.
The explanation “being afraid of someone or of something” is very general. Essentially, you can feel fear about anything. Fear itself lives inside of your mind and what you are afraid of is influenced by your experiences.
For instance, if you have had a near-drowning experience, you might be afraid of swimming or of being near the water. Whereas, other people, who have wonderful memories of spending summers at the ocean have no fear of the water.
The true meaning of fear is an individual and unique definition for each of us. Learning how to overcome fear in life starts with the understanding that your fear is your own. While you may not be able to control your anxiety or when you feel fear, you can control your true meaning of fear.
By changing the experiences that you have in your life. For instance, if you have a fear of water, slowly adding positive experiences near water could help to soothe some of that fear.
Oftentimes, living with anxiety means avoiding anything and everything that might cause that feeling of fear or panic.
My advice is instead to fill your mind and your memories with as many instances of positive associations as you can.
What is fear-based thinking?
Fear-based thinking happens when your brain and mind are exposed to events over and over again that elicit fear.
The problem is, fear-based thinking keeps you small and shrinks the space that you occupy. When you do the opposite, and repeatedly expose your mind and brain to positive events, you can expand your confidence and learn to overcome fear in life.
Here are a few ideas for how to change your mind about fear and stop your fear-based thinking.
Get friendly with your fear
When you start to step outside of your comfort zone aka that tiny little box that your anxiety has forced you into, fear starts to perk up and make itself known. Your mind is aware that you are about to do something that it’s unfamiliar with. And, that causes anxiety.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, your mind starts to ask all kinds of questions and imagine hypothetical scenarios.
This is the “what if” rabbit hole and, if your mind is like mine can be, it’s a deep dark hole to fall into … when you kick and scream on the way down.
Imagine we were sitting on a park bench together people-watching and I told you, “Don’t notice the color yellow”.
What do you think is going to happen?
You’re ONLY going to notice the color yellow!
It’s called confirmation bias.
So, trying to control or stop all of your “what-ifs” and “worst-case scenario” thoughts literally just makes them worse and more powerful.
Instead, acknowledge that they are happening, confirm for yourself that they are only hypothetical and none of them are currently reality and get grounded.
Don’t try to escape it
The same physiological response occurs when you are stepping outside of your comfort zone as if you were standing face-to-face with a bear. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between the two; only that you are afraid of both.
So, it sets off the hormone response and kicks the endocrine system into gear.
The result is the fight or flight response and you have a choice; try to run from it or stay and face it.
With the bear scenario, the “run from it” option seems obvious. But, when the thing that you’re afraid of only exists in your own mind, trying to run from it is completely futile.
Instead, stand tall and acknowledge it, “I’m feeling afraid right now but, it’s okay because I’m strong and I know how to get past this feeling … I’ve done it before”
Allow yourself to feel the fear
Practicing mindfulness and meditation has been a huge part of my toolbox to embrace anxiety. Sitting with anxiety when it comes up can be terrifying but, after that passes the overwhelming power and inner fire that you feel has no comparison.
When you start to feel the fear rise up in you, just stop. Take a breath and allow it to come. Hold someone’s hand if it helps or have a trinket that makes you feel grounded.
Just allow the fear to wash over you trusting the process and what will come.
Make friends with your anxiety
Do you have any friends or family members who you tolerate but don’t really enjoy spending time with?
That is how to think about your anxiety.
You don’t love it. If you had a choice it would not be invited to tag along with places. But, when it shows up, you will tolerate it and not make a scene.
The sooner you accept that your anxiety is a part of you, the sooner you can start living with that part being as minimal as possible instead of taking over everything.
Changing your mind about anxiety and embracing it as a part of you is essential to learning how to overcome fear in life.
Once you have done this, it is a daily practice of stepping out of your comfort zone, doing the dance with fear and anxiety, stepping out a little further, and so on. Each day, a new lesson will bring you a new opportunity to practice.
Knowing a few tips for strength helps smooth the process too.
How to overcome fear in life:
Accept and enjoy life the way that it is
We all have parts of our life that we want to improve, but focusing on those areas and obsessing about how terrible they are isn’t going to help anything. Instead, stay focused on the areas of your life that you are happy about. Practice gratitude for those parts on a daily basis.
Before you judge how other people act, open your heart to empathy and consider other perspectives. So often anxiety comes from worrying about what other people think and reading into their actions. But, if you can change the perspective and think about their actions in another way, you might learn they have nothing to do with you and there’s actually nothing to worry about.
Keep yourself open
A key theme in my life for the last few years has been “pivot”. When things don’t go the way that you think they should or the way that you planned, keep yourself open to the possibility that something better might be just around the corner. Maybe this one thing didn’t work out so that it could make room for something that is much better for you. Always be willing to pivot and keep your mind and heart open to the possibility
Maintain your sense of humor
Taking life too seriously is a hallmark behavior of someone with anxiety. In our defense, we think that we have to because something terrible will happen otherwise.
In reality, maintaining a sense of humor and lightheartedness about the activities of each day is a much better way to learn how to overcome fear in life. When something pushes you out of your comfort zone, find the joy in it and keep a solid sense of humor.
It is impossible to control everything and everyone … so stop trying.
The only thing that you can truly control is how you react to the situations that life throws at you. And, that is what we’re talking about today. The types of behavior or personality traits will help you learn how to overcome fear in life and embrace anxiety.
Controlling people, anxiety, the future … all of that will only bring you more anxiety and a smaller box to exist inside of. Letting go of that control and focusing on your behavior and personal development is the only true way to learn how to overcome fear in life and live more boldly.
Listen to your gut instinct
When you’re in the midst of chronic anxiety, it’s natural to always exist in your mind. Whether it’s visualizing the details of the worst-case scenarios you’re convinced will happen or considering the million “what-if” questions, the mind chatter is incessant.
Luckily, there is another internal dialogue that you can listen to. One that is much more grounded and has your best interest at heart. That second voice is your gut instinct.
When you start to meditate and practice mindfulness to quiet the chatter in your head, your gut instinct gets louder and louder. She is always looking out for you and, if you sincerely listen to her, she will lead you to a life that is much more in alignment and less fearful than the one you live now.
Apologize but, don’t grovel
One behavior that many of us ladies with anxiety have is people-pleasing. The idea being, if we can be all the things to all the people, no one will get mad and there won’t be any confrontation.
But, as we’ve talked about before, you can’t control other people. They’re going to think what they want to think, no matter what you say or do.
That being said, if you make a mistake, of course, apologize and mean it. But, there is no need to grovel and try to force the other person into accepting your apology. You are a human with flaws and you are allowed to make mistakes.
An honest apology and commitment to not making the mistake again is enough remorse.
Set an intention to give 100% effort, no matter what the task is
In a previous post about things to do with your anxious energy, I talked about defining terms like “success” and “productivity” for yourself.
Once you have those definitions in place, commit to representing those definitions in all that you do. Don’t sell yourself short because you’re afraid or because you’ve told yourself the story that you can’t do hard things.
Show up for yourself 100% no matter what it is that you’re doing.
Be a spectator
Instead of jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst about a situation, just sit back and watch. Take it all in and make your move using the information that you’ve gathered rather than allow fear to force you into action.
When you jump to action from fear, you’re motivated by stopping, controlling, or avoiding something. But, if you sit back as a spectator you might learn that there’s nothing to fear and your action can be more intentional
Make a list of your triggers … and how to calm them
Knowing your anxiety is crucial to making friends with it and learning how to overcome fear in life. The more you know about your anxiety, the easier it will be to embrace and leverage it.
Triggers are the situations that you know create anxiety for you. Making a list of these will give you the opportunity to think through each of them and create a plan for how you will calm yourself when you are triggered by each
For many of us, the worst feeling in the world is feeling vulnerable. Having others see you when you need help. See you weak and powerless. Feeling stripped of all of your control. What could be worse?
In fact, not being strong enough to embrace vulnerability is far worse. If you listen to Brene Brown, her years of studying vulnerability reveals that love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity are born from vulnerability.
Learning to be completely open, exposed, and vulnerable is the true work. That is where your strength comes from and that will teach you more about how to overcome fear in life than anything else.
Set an intention and believe in yourself
The idea to step outside of your comfort zone can come from a variety of events. Maybe you’re fed up with living smaller than your gut tells you is possible. Or, maybe you want to show the people in your life how strong and bold you can be.
Whatever the reason, it won’t help to motivate you unless you truly believe in yourself. You might get a wild hair one day to finally work on yourself and how to overcome fear in your life. But, if you don’t truly believe that you are strong enough to do it, you will quit when it gets hard.
Before you set out to make any of these changes, make sure you do the very important work of changing your mindset to believe in yourself. And be a good person.
Let go of the past
Most of us are running around with a story. One that we’ve been telling ourselves for a really long time. And, it’s not a positive, uplifting or empowering one.
The past is in your head, the future is in your hands.
In other words, you can rewrite your story by letting go of the past and taking action in the present.
If you need help doing that, I highly recommend studying The Work by Byron Katie.
Surround yourself with positive people and positive things
Living with anxiety for decades can make you very weary. Not only does it take a toll on your heart and soul but, it takes a toll on your body. Things like adrenal fatigue, insulin resistance, and hormone imbalances are all physical ailments that can come from chronic anxiety
It’s not just an internal problem, there are plenty of influences from the outside that can contribute. And, negative influences are the most detrimental. Make an effort to keep yourself surrounded by positive events and positive people. It will limit the energy drain that you feel.
Stop comparing yourself to other people
We’ve already discussed the importance of defining key metrics in your life for yourself. This is important for a lot of reasons. But, one of the biggest is because it frees you from comparing yourself to others.
When you have your own unique definition for things like “success”, “productivity”, and “happiness” the only thing you need to measure yourself against is those definitions you’ve developed.
As long as you are living up to your own personal definitions … you are winning.
Learning how to overcome fear in life is an internal process. It happens inside of your mind and is practiced every day using your heart.