Don’t pretend to be brave, we all have fears. For some of us, the mere mention of certain things (spiders, heights, needles) can make us a shivering blubbering mess. Fears are a psychological aversion to an item or situation that can result in a very real, physiological reaction. These reactions can range from a feeling of dread to crying and shaking, but regardless of the severity of the reaction, fears can negatively (and sometimes significantly) impact our life.
My fears are sharks and failure (not necessarily in that order). You may have a fear of public speaking, snakes, dating or people, however, anything can become a phobia if we overthink it. For example, have you heard of trypophobia – a fear of holes? Yep, it’s a thing. Trypophobics can’t stand the sight of honeycomb, sponges or anything with holes in it, so you are unlikely to be a beekeeper. Here are 4 key ways to help you overcome your fears.
- Houston we have a problem, or do we?
How much of a negative impact is your phobia having? My fear of sharks wouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t like the ocean. However, I love to surf and my fear was preventing me from indulging one of my true passions so I became motivated to face my phobia. If, as an example, you have a fear of public speaking, but aren’t required to address an audience in your everyday working life, your phobia likely won’t impact your career. Therefore, because the likelihood of you being in a situation where you have to face your fear is low, you will probably not be that motivated to address it and nor would you need to. Assess how much of a problem your phobia is on your life.
- Kick some goals
If you do determine that your fear is preventing you from living your best life you need to take some steps to address it. Ask yourself, what does over-coming your fear look like? What is your end goal? On one of my regular flights to Sydney, I was sitting in the aisle seat when I felt someone grab my hand. Given I was flying solo you can imagine my surprise. When I looked up to see who had been so bold, I saw a woman with an absolute look of terror on her face. After talking to her, I found out she had a serious phobia of flying, and her goal was to be able to fly without experiencing sheer terror. It is important to remember the goals you set should be realistic because our fears often have become so ingrained in our minds because we have played them over and over..
- Know where your fear comes from
As a 12-year-old I was in my element when I was swimming and free diving in the ocean. Regardless of how far I was from shore or how deep the water was, I was fearless. Everything changed after I watched Jaws. From that point on whenever I swam, whether in the ocean or a freshwater dam, my mind kept playing the ominous soundtrack and I visualised an imaginary shark stalking me. For most people, however, the origin of a phobia may not always be as obvious. A fear of heights may stem from your parents panicking when you climbed a tree and telling you that you could fall and hurt yourself. The feeling of their urgent yelling could have led to a panicked response, even years later, If the origin of your fears aren’t easily identifiable, you may need to dig deep into your past to identify the root of your fear.
- Break old habits, create new ones
Once you have identified the origin of your phobia, you need to break your ‘fear habit’. In his book Outliers, author Malcom Gladwell noted that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything and chances are you have spent more time than that obsessing about your fear. Therefore, your phobia has now become a pattern and you need to break the ‘fear habit’.
To overcome my fear of sharks, I began with educating myself about sharks and their hunting style and habits. This led me to realise they aren’t just waiting under the surface looking to attack me and I proactively set about debunking the fake news my fear had created. Then, I dived with sharks in the wild in Thailand, harmless leopard sharks, but still a shark none the less. Finally, I went bigger and swam with 3.5 metre grey nurse sharks at Underwater World and looked them in the eye. I forced my brain to reassess the reality of the threat and I was then able to reframe my fear. Now when I go surfing my fear is still there but it’s power over my actions has lessened considerably.
Start researching your fear to look at how others have dealt with similar fears. Then do things that help you put things back into context. If it still is holding you back get some professional help so you can move past it. The more you face your fear then the more you will come to realise you may have been making it bigger than it is in reality.
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