How to Face Your Fears

A little bit of fear is normal. In fact, fear helps you instinctively protect yourself from harm. Your fear might help you to recognize when you’re about to do something dangerous and it could help you to make a safer choice.

But, you might find yourself fearful of things that aren’t actually dangerous, like public speaking. Your fear of public speaking might prevent you from advancing in your career and that can be frustrating. If you really want to go on a vacation to Europe, but your fear of flying prevents you from setting foot in an airplane, you might feel like your fear prevents you from living your dream. 

You may find that your fear holds you back or creates bigger problems in your life.

Common ways of facing your fears are evaluating the risks, creating an action plan, seeing a therapist, and being sure not to completely avoid your fears. However, you may need to first decide whether it’s necessary to face your fear if it is not part of your daily life.

Evaluate Risks

Sometimes, fear comes from simply not knowing very much about the thing you’re afraid of. For example, you might be afraid of airplanes because it seems like you have heard about a lot of in-air incidents that lead to injury or death.

However, if you look into the statistics, you might learn that the probability of death on a U.S. commercial jet airline is 1 in 7 million (in comparison to 1 in 600 from smoking).

You can also learn more about what causes those bumps and jolts during turbulence on an aircraft—it’s simply the movement of air having an effect on the aircraft and, if you’re buckled in properly, poses very little threat to you.

Of course, less tangible fears, such as being afraid of public speaking, don’t necessarily have statistics to help you learn more about the risks you face. But you can read about people’s successful public speaking ventures, or learn more about the successful public speaking strategies, to help you feel more confident.

Keep in mind that just because something feels scary, doesn’t mean it’s actually risky. Educate yourself about the facts and the risks you actually face by doing the things that scare you.

Create an Action Plan

The key to facing your fears is to take one small step at a time. Going too fast or doing something too scary before you are ready can backfire.

But it’s also important to keep moving forward. A moderate amount of anxiety is good. Don’t wait to take a step forward until your anxiety disappears.

The best way to create an action plan is to create a fear hierarchy made up of small steps. Here’s an example of how someone might face the fear of public speaking one step at a time using exposure therapy:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror and give a two-minute talk.
  2. Record yourself giving a talk and watch it back.
  3. Practice the talk in front of a spouse.
  4. Practice the talk in front of a spouse and family member .
  5. Practice the talk in front of a spouse, family member, and one friend.
  6. Practice the talk in front of a spouse, family member, and two friends.
  7. Give the talk in a meeting at work.

If you can’t actually do the thing that scares you to practice, you might use imagined exposure. For example, it’s difficult to practice flying on an airplane one step at a time.

But, you might be able to induce a little anxiety by imagining yourself getting on a plane. Think about how it would feel to take your seat and think about how you would handle feeling the plane take off.

You also might watch videos about airplanes or you might park your car near an airport in an area where you can watch flights land and take off. Learning more about planes and being near them may help ease your fear over time. 

In some cases, virtual reality treatment may be an option to provide exposure therapy. The treatment has shown promise in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Try Seeing a Therapist

If you have a specific phobia, you may not be able to conquer your fears on your own. If your fears are debilitating, or you aren’t having much success facing them on your own, seek professional help.

A cognitive behavioral therapist can help desensitize you to your fears one small step at a time.

Most professionals are comfortable treating a variety of phobias ranging from the fear of spiders to the fear of blood.

If you have a trauma history that affects your fears, you should also consider getting professional help. Post-traumatic stress disorder can play a role in ongoing fears.

Treatment may involve talking about the thing that scares you, practicing relaxation strategies, and managing your anxiety as you face your fears head-on. A therapist, however, will help you go at a pace that is comfortable and healthy for you.

Fear-facing treatment may include:

Why It May Be Worse to Avoid Your Fears

While avoiding the situations you fear might make you feel better in the short term, this behavior can cause anxiety in the long term. When you completely avoid your fears, you teach your amygdala (the fear center in your brain) that you can't handle them.

Ideally, you need to gradually face your fears, in small doses that don't overwhelm you, until your fear subsides. This will "habituate" your amygdala, or let your brain become accustomed to the fear.

According to a study published in the journal Science, the brain has to experience repeated exposure to fear in order to get over it. Researchers placed rodents in a small box and gave them a mild shock. Then, over a long period, they place the same rodents in a box without administering shocks. At first, the mice froze but with repeated exposure they were able to relax.

Should You Face Your Fear?

You don’t need to conquer every fear you experience. A fear of tsunamis isn’t a big deal if you live 1,000 miles away from the ocean. But it may be a problem if you live on the coast and panic every time you hear about earthquakes, storms, or high tides because you think you might be in danger.

Have an internal conversation with yourself about what your fears are stopping you from doing, and consider if it’s a problem that you need to confront. Are your fears causing you to lead a less fulfilling life than the one you hoped for?

Consider the pros and cons of not facing your fear. Write those down. Then, identify the pros and cons of tackling your fears head-on. Write down what you might achieve or how your life might be different.

Reading over those lists can help you make a clearer decision about what to do next.

Fear vs. Phobia

When determining whether you should face your fear, it's important to distinguish between a normal fear or a phobia, which can make your fear response more extreme and difficult to control.

For example, if you have aerophobia (the fear of flying), you may not be able to board a flight at all and become anxious when planes fly overhead. If you are able to board a plane, you'll likely have a serious physiological response like sweating, shaking, or crying.

Your fear may also be related to a specific health condition, like an eating disorder, social anxiety disorder or PTSD, and require the help of a trusted mental health professional.

A Word From Verywell

The best way to conquer a fear is to face your fears head-on, but it’s important to do so in a healthy manner that helps you move past the fear rather than in a way that traumatizes you. If you're having difficulty on your own, a mental health professional can guide you gradually through the situations that you fear, being sure to first work on the thought patterns that keep you stuck.

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