I recently finished reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (not sponsored and not an affiliate link!) and whilst I’ve always known it was there, the book made me really appreciate how animal we are. Our genetics are incredibly old and woven through them are animalistic responses on how to deal with situations. One of the deepest systems is our fear response and boy, do we know it. Fear is a massive part of most people’s daily lives. Of course, if you live with anxiety, you’ll probably know your fear pretty intimately, but everyone, regardless of how fearless they may seem, is controlled by fear. So what do you do when your fear gets a little too controlling? Grab a cuppa and let’s talk through how to stop being scared.
Before we start, I wanna put a quick note to say that I really recommend getting professional help if you’re really struggling with fear, especially if it’s affecting your everyday life. Helping you to develop constructive ways to talk to and work with your fear, without bottling it up, is what therapists are excellent at. Anyone can benefit from therapy so if you need some help, make sure you get it.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
1: Identify what you’re scared of
Often when I’m journaling or speaking to a friend about a problem I suddenly get hit with an explosive epiphany about the deeper, more specific nature of my fears. I can spend ages feeling like it’s one thing, but as soon as I start rambling about it, I realise that that fear is in fact made up smaller, more specific fears, that just fall under the same umbrella.
If you say you’re scared of social situations, break it down to the smallest, specific parts that scare you. Is it the people? Is it being out at night? Not knowing what to say? Being judged? Knowing what to wear? Is it waking up later tomorrow feeling tired? Being taken from the comfort of your nights in? Fear acts in the opposite fashion to rose coloured glasses. We go into fear mode and suddenly everything’s dark, intimidating and trying to kill us. This leads to a lot of big generalisations, where we look at entire situations and mark them as scary, even if our fear is only really sparked by one small part of them.
Why is this handy to know? Because it means you’re a lot less scared than you think you are. Our monochromatic fear goggles don’t let us focus on the parts we don’t fear. But when you know the specific thing you’re scared of, you can start turning your attention instead to what you’re not scared of and not shy away from big situations as a result. Knowing your fear more intimately will make you better able to identify thought patterns, to catch yourself spiralling and to work with yourself to heal the intricacies of your fear.
2: Visualise your fear
For me, one of the strongest tricks in my fear-tackling toolkit is visualisation. I recently started rereading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (not sponsored and not an affiliate link) and realised that the strategy I’d been using for years must have come from the first time I’d read her book (so shout out to her – that book is a blessing and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a positive boost to their day-to-day). I use this strategy any time I’m faced with anxiety, whenever I’m nervous or whenever I feel like I’m avoiding something I really would like to do. Gilbert gives a similar explanation, but here’s how I’d explain it.
Your fear’s a small, sentient, good-hearted creature that comes around with you throughout the road trip that is your life (if it helps, you can give them a physical image in your mind too). He (she/they/whatever you decide) is overly cautious but only wants to keep you safe. When he starts trying to control things, I talk him down from the steering wheel, place myself firmly in the driver’s seat, plop him in the back and turn around to speak to him. “Fear, thank you for your thoughts – I’ve listened, however, I will be the one who decides what advice is constructive and which parts we act on. If we’re going to enjoy this trip, I’ll need you to stop shouting, to stop trying to take the wheel, and I need you to trust me. You’re more than welcome to be here, but under no circumstances are you allowed to drive”. With that, I turn back to the front, put something chill on the speakers and continue to enjoy the drive.
Maybe that won’t work for everyone, it’s taken me a lot of practice – I know visualisation’s not everybody’s thing, but for me, it’s a way of doing something practical, that feels nice and empowering, without stuffing my fear in a bottle. Of course, you can shift that visualisation to fit your own style. Maybe you just need plain mantras:
“My fear will not take the driver’s seat”
“My fear is trying to protect me, but it will not control me”
“My fear will not stop me doing things I care about”
Maybe you need to talk it through with a real person, explaining how your fear is feeling and the thoughts coming from it, working together to shrink and dilute those thoughts. Maybe you need to write it down. Maybe you need to dance with it. Experiment and find your method. Focus on being kind to your fear (it’s only trying to help and hate never helps anybody), but set your boundaries and your expectations clearly.
3: Practice grounding
I never really expected grounding techniques to work, but when you’re in a real panic or your thoughts start spiralling, grounding’s really helpful. I like to humour it and imagine it’s kind of like learning to stand up when you think you’re drowning in the shallow end of a swimming pool.
There’s a lot of different grounding techniques and it’s important to figure out which ones work best for you. For me, I just like to bring my focus back to the room I’m in (sometimes I’ll name objects around the room or get myself to look at all the objects of a certain colour), to immerse one of my senses (lighting, watching and smelling a candle, putting my hands in cold water, walking, etc), listing what’s happening in the situation in my head or focussing on the sound of my breathing and the birds outside (oh, how I’ll miss living by the seaside). Find what works for you and use it, slowly, any time you can.
4: Build your confidence
One of the best ways to improve your relationship with fear is to build your confidence. When you have more trust in your capabilities and your ability to handle situations, you can take a more confident stance against your fear.
You can do so many things to boost your confidence, but one of the most helpful when facing your fear is starting to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s within the realm of discomfort that we find new things and build our confidence. I wouldn’t have changed much in the last few years without pushing my comfort zone. Growth is only accessible to use when we reach towards the sun and away from the comfort of the ground. Be kind and slow with yourself, but still, in small ways every day, push yourself.
Learning to work alongside your fear, rather than under or against it, will not only make life simpler and more enjoyable, but it will bring you peace, happiness and confidence, and for me at least, that’s the goal in life.
Experience everything you can. Love, Ella-Rose xx