Breaking Free From Our Fears: The Rational and Irrational

What scares you the most? What are your deepest fears? 

Learning how to overcome different fears can be challenging for everyone. Fear can be uncomfortable and crippling. But before the world told us who we were supposed to be and before we were influenced by society and all other external factors, we didn’t know the concept of fear.

The good news is, all fears are learned. No one is born with fears. Which means fears can therefore, be unlearned through self-discipline and facing our fears head on until we eliminate them.

Take for example a toddler. When a baby learns to walk, he or she stands up and tries to take a few steps. If the baby falls, he/she doesn’t lie down all day not wanting to try again. The baby gets back up and tries again. When we were toddlers learning how to walk, we didn’t have fears yet. We weren’t born with fears.

Being fearless doesn’t mean eliminating fear. It means knowing how to face and leverage fear to our advantage.

What to understand about Fear

Fear is not a sign of weakness and can be healthy

Fear is hardwired in your brain, and for good reason. Being afraid is our mind and body signaling to us that there could be potential danger or threat. Being scared is neither abnormal nor a sign of weakness. 

The capacity to be afraid is part of being human. In fact, a lack of fear may be a sign of serious brain trauma and can cause a lot of problems as well. We feel fear and our body and brain takes action from that emotion in order to keep us safe. Without this emotion, we would be jumping off of cliffs just because we wanted to without thinking about the consequences (or doing it safely).

Being afraid doesn’t always mean you are in danger

Although our body’s capacity to be afraid is natural and an important part of being human, fear can also be irrational. Fear can arise even without danger or something scary (rational fear). 

Conditioned fear is when our brain begins to fear a range of stimuli that are not dangerous or threatening to our physical well-being. Anticipatory anxiety or fear is when our brain starts to fear something not yet there. These types of fears are all caused by external factors, our previous experiences, and the society we live in. 

We often get scared because of what we imagine could happen. We anticipate the worst case scenario even though there is only 1% chance of it ever happening in real life. Because humans have the capability to learn, to think, and communicate, our brain also has the ability to create fear in our minds.

Fear can stop you from taking action

The way we react to fear and fearful stimulus varies from person to person and also depends on the stimulus in front of them. Our actions and responses that are motivated by fear can fall into one of four types—freeze, fight, flight, or fright. 

When you go into freeze mode, this means you stop what you are doing and focus on the thing you are afraid of instead of thinking about the actions to take next to overcome that fearful stimulus. Your brain shuts down and your body freezes. We are paralyzed to take action. We become like a deer caught in headlights – panicked, frozen, and overwhelmed.

After you freeze, you can then either go to fight or flight mode. In fight mode, you confront your fears. You deal with it directly. But on the other hand, when you get too overwhelmed with fear, it stops you in your tracks and you turn to either flight (running away from it) or fright (neither fight nor flee).

Although it is natural for us to have these moments where we freeze and are paralyzed when faced with fearful events, allowing it to keep us paralyzed is more dangerous.

Types of Fears that Interfere with Our Happiness

There are so many different types of fear, but the three types that I would like to touch on are those that can greatly affect our happiness and how we experience life. By understanding where your fear is coming from helps you drive your decisions for the action you take when faced with fear.

Fear of Failure

With our obsession with social media and the highlight reels, it’s easy to start comparing ourselves to the next person. Because of this, we lose sight of one reality – failure is a normal part of life, whether that be in your business, in your relationships, or achieving your personal goals.  

Fear of failure can be best articulated in being afraid of never having what it is that we want. This causes us to avoid taking risks. It makes us unproductive because instead of doing the steps to reach our goal, we stay stuck and we let those big goals sit there and collect cobwebs.

Fear of Pain

We’ve all been through some type of pain in the past, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Because of that pain we have experienced, our brain tells us that we don’t want to have to experience that same type of hurt or pain. Fear of pain is the hurt that resurfaces from our past. 

People go through great lengths to avoid pain, which is understandable because who wants to endure pain? However, research has also shown that fearing pain can actually make you experience even more pain.

Fear of the Future

When a person fears the future, they are anxious about what has not arrived yet. This fear can stem from the belief that you are not enough. It can be caused by deep-seated factors – parents who are unsupportive, or childhood or past experiences that caused you to doubt yourself.  

You don’t allow yourself to take the next step because on the subconscious level you don’t believe you are worthy. This makes you anxious about the future.  This type of fear is powerful enough to keep us from achieving our goals and living our best lives.

Facing Your Fears

Just like anything in life, facing your fears takes time, patience and self-discipline. Here are the ways and steps you can take in order to look fear in the eye and face it head on.

Understand and Acknowledge Your Fears

Fear is not inherently good or bad. It exists to keep us safe. It helps us act in ways that help us avoid results that we don’t want. When you understand that this is where your fears are coming from, you get a clearer understanding and a better perspective of why you are afraid in the first place.

Adjust Your Perspective and Think Long-Term

A lot of our fears are based on short-term outcomes – we are afraid to quit our jobs that we hate and follow our passion because we are afraid of not making enough money, we are afraid to put ourselves out there and ask someone out because we are scared to be rejected. But when you think of the long-term instead of the short -term possibilities, you see there are so many more opportunities once you get past that first step.

Practice Mindfulness

Being mindful means being present and really listening to your thoughts and body. When you recognize your fear arising, take a step back, sit down and think about what is happening to you and what you are facing. 

Observe your thoughts and feelings as they arise. Don’t act on them. Just sit and keep track of yourself as the moment continues. By practicing this type of presence, this helps raise your self-awareness, and it prevents you from reacting to the stimulus.

Be Willing to Deal with the Situation or Person Directly

Have you been dreading talking to your client about something on your mind, or to a relative about something that you have wanted to get off of your chest for so long because you are afraid of what they may say? 

Because of your fear of confronting your fear, it becomes a major source of stress and anxiety. When you first identify a fear and discipline yourself to take the steps to move toward it, it grows smaller and your confidence grows bigger.

Get Help When You Need It

Whatever you are facing and afraid of, you may not always have to face it alone. Talk to a trusted friend, a relative or a coach about it. Sometimes getting things off of your chest and getting clarity on what steps to take to overcome your fear, is more than half the effort done. The steps you then take, help you to move forward in a way that is supportive and sustainable.

Fear can also be attached to traumatic events. If this is the case, then specialized trauma counseling can help you overcome fears that are holding you back.

Use Fear as a Flag

I know that when I’m afraid of something, it’s an invitation for me to lean into it (provided it’s an irrational fear and not something that is life-threatening). By learning about something that makes you scared, speaking about it to professionals in the field and experiencing things DESPITE your fear, you not only overcome that which made you afraid, you also get a massive sense of achievement/accomplishment. It also shows you that overcoming fears is totally doable and in some instances, can even be an enjoyable learning experience.

Why facing your fears is an important part of life

We hear it all the time and the dictum starts to get a bit cliche, “do one thing every day that scares you.”

The directive to “face your fears” is cliche because it is true. When you do things that you are afraid of, you step out of your comfort zone and grow as an individual. 

“An individual develops courage by doing courageous acts” — Aristotle

In Conclusion

Fear can be a debilitating, overwhelming emotion that can hold us back throughout our lives. There are a lot of types of fears and a lot more reasons behind them and they are different for each person. But regardless of the type and source, when left unchecked, our fears can immobilize us.

Fear can be as much an ally, as it can be an enemy. In order to overcome your fears, learn to leverage it to take action or change the course of your direction.

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