Fear is one of the most powerful human emotions and it can be both a gift and a curse. Fear can paralyze us from taking necessary action in our lives, yet overcoming fear brings insight about who we are, where we’re at in our lives, and changes that need to be made so we can move forward. In this article, I’ll explore how overcoming fear is an essential part of self-growth.
As I sit here writing this blog post it’s a beautiful early September day. The sun is out, the skies are blue, my kids just left for school, and I’m in incredible pain.
The physical pain is symbolic of the emotional pain that fear has brought to my life for many many years.
Three days ago I awoke in the middle of the night with horrible tooth pain. The kind of pain that I didn’t know existed and went from a dull throbbing pain-to complete sharp pain going through my tooth, jaw and ear.
I knew the cause of the pain, because I had a crown put on about three weeks ago and I’ve had a dull pain ever since. I was told by my dentist that in some cases crowns lead to root canals because the nerves in the tooth flair up and die out under the crowned tooth. And…I knew that this is what had happened and that I would probably need a root canal-one of my greatest fears!
Years ago I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety which for me has meant that in certain situations I have panic attacks. I have lived with these panic attacks for over 20 years and during that time I have allowed my fear to keep me from doing things that are good for me (like going to the dentist) or lead to my growth.
I used to be a person who loved trying new things . But for some reason after my diagnosis 14 years ago I became too afraid to do those types of activities which is so backwards because it’s these experiences that would help me grow beyond where I was at in life.
After many years of letting my fears control me, it became important for me to understand the source of my fears.
When reflecting on my fear of the dentist, I realized I had many traumatic experiences at the dentist as a child. Experiences I had put out of my thoughts because they were painful and unpleasant. And when you have had traumatic experiences, when something triggers that trauma, your brain and body respond as if you were experiencing that trauma again, in the moment.
That anxiety response for me is fear and when I feel it, I freeze.
I realized that overcoming my fears would require me to go through the feelings of being in a dentist’s chair again and not allow myself to avoid going because I was “afraid.” This meant overcoming all the old beliefs, memories and emotions associated with it so I could be free from continuing this pattern.
I had to put space between my feeling, my thought about it, and move forward anyways-approaching the fear head on.
When we put space between the thoughts we have, and the feelings they produce we are able to not go into a place of fear, but to stay rational and make decisions that help move us through fear. It’s regulating our emotions and it helps with any difficult emotion-fear, anger, jealousy, sadness, etc…Most importantly it keeps our minds and bodies from reacting as if we’re experiencing that trauma again.
It starts with acknowledging the emotion and how it once served you in your life. Every emotional response we have in our lives served us at one time, that’s how we developed those responses to situations. They kept us safe in some way. But as adults we see responses that no longer work for us. We outgrow those responses and need to figure out new ways of responding to situations that are aligned with expansion and growth.
The fear I have of the dentist is now outdated and it no longer serves me, but rather keeps me from moving forward in life.
I knew overcoming this fear would be the catalyst to my growth and allow me to finally trust myself again. I developed a doable plan for myself which included small steps to overcome my fear. I started by finding a new dentist who was gentle, kind and had a sense of humor. When I went to my first visit I practiced breathing to keep myself calm.
At the end of the visit I found out I had a lot of dental work that needed to be done which I knew was just part of the lesson I had yet to learn about my fear. Anytime we overcome challenges more challenges will appear and we have to be prepared for this. I hadn’t been to the dentist for two years and as a result, more dental work than normal would need to be done.
Which brought me to writing this blog the day I was to go in for a root canal. I had the root canal, I was nervous, but I knew that my fear and avoidance of the dentist is what got me to the place where I would need a root canal. And once it was done, that I could be proud of myself for once again conquering one more fear.
I feel so much better physically and emotionally and am proud of how far I’ve come in challenging my fears and not letting anxiety run my life.
It’s hard overcoming fear, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to take your life to the next level. The following are some of the key principles for overcoming fear so you can manage fear and start to live your best life.
- Be gentle with yourself. Keep in mind that your fear served you at one point in your life and kept you safe. Keep reminding yourself that rather than keeping you safe, your fear is keeping you stuck in an area of your life where you don’t want to be stuck. That in order to grow, you need to face it and develop a plan for moving through it.
- There is no best way to move through your fear. Forget the “I shoulds” when telling yourself how swiftly you should overcome your fear. Instead, be patient with the process and know that not every time you challenge your fear will lead to the success you had imagined. But, it’s still a step forward and necessary for working through it.
- Learn when you start to feel fear in your body. What does it feel like? What triggers it? Then breathe in through your nose for a count of five, hold for a count of five, and out through your mouth for a count of five. Repeat until you feel calm again.
- Find a way to reflect daily on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Getting all of the thoughts (over 70,000 a day) out of your head helps you make sense of your feelings and how your thoughts influence your feelings, including your fear. I do this through writing or journaling. Meditation can be a great way to do this as well.
- Consider how your life would be if you didn’t conquer this fear. Then consider how it would be if you did conquer this fear. Then start taking that one small step towards challenging your fear today.
Remember, avoiding or hiding from something in your life only gives it more power and makes it bigger. You are in charge of your life and you are the only one with the power to make it the best life possible. You can do this!!!