Each of us dreads an imagined worst-case scenario. If you’re camera-shy, for example, you might worry about embarrassing yourself on video. And then finding it online. With hundreds of comments mocking your ridiculousness. Or if you fear conflict, you may picture yourself trying--and failing--to assert yourself, then bursting into tears.
Whatever your imagined horror story, don’t hit “pause” at the worst possible moment of it. Instead, keep the movie rolling until you’re safe. Maybe your mortifying video will fade into internet oblivion--or even better, maybe you’ll star in other videos that overshadow the original. Or maybe your tearful argument will start a real conversation.
Bottom line, whatever you picture as your fear, push past the worst-case scenario to a safe conclusion. You’ll feel better prepared to handle the worst (which, by the way, will likely never happen.)
Eventually, agonizing over fears becomes tiresome. So when you’re sick of holding yourself back, do a 180 with your willingness.
Find the will to stand behind that podium, get on the plane, ask for a raise, or do whatever it is you’re afraid of while you’re terrified. Willingness is mutually exclusive from fear--you can be scared witless and still be ready and, well, willing, to go through the motions. And guess what? When you see yourself doing it, you might even start to believe you can.
If you keep a journal, this tip is for you. First, write down what you’re afraid of.
After a few days, go back and look over what you wrote. In retrospect, some of your fears might seem downright melodramatic. Or maybe you’ll realize they’re someone else’s warped opinion of you, like an abusive partner, demeaning parent, or middle school mean girl. It’s their thought, but maybe you’ve come to internalize it.
Next, write a rebuttal to your fear. (Note: the first time you try this, you may struggle to think of something, but keep trying). Write what your biggest fan would say. Summon your inner defense attorney to build an argument. Jot down all the evidence that undermines your fear, even if you think it shouldn’t count. Then rinse and repeat. Create a stockpile of counterattacks you can turn to the next time your fear is invoked.
However, if you can’t bear to face your “I suck” fears, or you can’t think of any evidence to the contrary, take your notebook to a therapist you like and trust. He or she will help you reexamine those fears--and I guarantee you’ll discover they’re not as strong as you think.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to jump in with both feet.
On the contrary, facing fears means starting small. Plan a tiny, more manageable snack-sized goal that doesn’t make you cringe. If you have social anxiety but are going to a party, you might plan to ask a specific co-worker about her recent vacation, ask the new guy how he’s adjusting, or smile and say hi to three people.
If you just know deep down you’re not going to accomplish your snack-sized goal, you haven’t gone small enough. Shrink it to two people, or one. When that knot in your stomach starts to unfurl, you’ve gone small enough.
Then, after you’ve accomplished your teeny goal, pat yourself on the back and go a little bigger. For our socially anxious party guest, you’re slowly re-wiring the part of your brain that screams, “Don’t even bother trying, you awkward tool!” You may never dance on the bar, but that’s okay. The goal of facing your fear is not to change your personality; instead, it’s to help you be more flexible and more comfortable being yourself. With practice and time, you’ll rewire your own brain’s equivalent anxious thoughts, too.
Big asterisk: facing your fears, especially at first, will feel wrong. Even bite-sized fears can be difficult to swallow. But bit by bit, your fear will give way to confidence.
And here’s the thing: in the moment, you won’t notice the transformation. Instead, you’ll look back and realize how far you’ve come. You’ll find yourself doing whatever it is you were afraid of without thinking. And that’s when you’ll know all those butterflies in your stomach have flown away.
A version of this piece originally appeared on Quick and Dirty Tips.
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Disclaimer: All content is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute for mental health care