Body + Mind is reader-supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through some of the links on our site.
What do you fear the most? You might have a specific phobia, such as flying. They could be more general, like being in crowds or speaking to groups.
You derive an incredible sense of satisfaction from staring your worst terrors in the eye and standing up to them. Here are five tips for learning to face your fears and kicking that phobia to the curb for good.
Fear is one of the most primal human emotions. It’s necessary to your survival, keeping you alert to danger and preparing you for it.
Physiologically speaking, your brain sets off a biochemical flood when it senses danger. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, sending life-giving blood to your muscles for fight-or-flight. You begin to sweat as your body prepares to cool itself from exhaustion, and you may feel funny sensations in your stomach, chest, head or hands.
In more primitive times, this physical response worked as intended, giving you the energy you needed to outrun hungry lions. However, trouble arises in the modern world when you can’t escape the source of your fear.
Problems like giving a presentation at work or coping with overwhelming bills don’t disappear when you go for a run or hit the heavy bag at the gym. As a result, your body keeps pumping out stress hormones like cortisol.
Excess cortisol production can cause changes in appetite. It can prompt you to overindulge in fattening foods that add unwanted pounds to your waistline and stress your heart. Further complicating the issue is how an overabundance of this hormone can rewire your brain to keep your blood pressure elevated. Heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women — getting your fear under control could help save your life.
Understanding the physiological effects of fear can prompt you to take the first step in overcoming it. Get mindful and tune in to the way you react when you encounter your primary stressor. Then, seek healthy ways to dispel the tension, such as exercise.
Overcoming a phobia requires change — which can increase your fear. Psychologically speaking, change is scary. However, you can make it less so by taking baby steps.
For example, your boss ties a needed promotion to a business trip — but you’re terrified of flying. You might start by looking at pictures of people on airplanes and learning about all the various safety protocols airlines undergo to protect their passengers in the air. Your next step might be to get on a plane that remains on the ground. You can find classes designed to help you overcome your fear of flying that provide this opportunity.
Most frightening things become less so if you have someone by your side for support. If possible, bring a partner with you when it’s time to face your fear. You might have a trusted comrade in the audience for your big speech or have a hand to hold the first time you surrender to the dentist’s chair.
This technique works particularly well if you have social anxiety. A trusted partner or friend can help you break through denial and attend those events that you know you should go to — like your office holiday party.
What’s the worst that could happen? You might think asking this question will increase your fear levels. However, your mind is bound to veer in this direction, anyway. Why not quantify the risk instead of keeping it amorphous and, thus, more terrifying?
For example, you might take comfort in knowing that not a single passenger died in 2008 due to air travel if you fear flying. In contrast, the vehicle fatality rate was 1.27 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Statistics bear out the wisdom that this mode of transportation is safer than getting in your car.
Finally, ask yourself why you want to overcome your fear. In some cases, you might need to for economic reasons — such as accepting a job that requires travel or giving presentations to large groups. In others, your motivation might be more intrinsic. For example, learning to face your fears of swimming so you can snorkel with the dolphins on an upcoming vacation.
Other times, though, you might not need to learn to face a particular fear at all. For example, some folks have a deathly fear of cockroaches — yours truly included. However, there’s no need to adopt a Madagascar hissing cockroach as a pet in a world where exterminators exist. You might decide to peacefully coexist with your phobia.
Learning to face your fears gives you a sense of satisfaction and can even propel your career prospects. Follow these five tips to tackle your phobia.