Fear is such a powerful emotion. It has the ability to keep us safe, but for many of us, it keeps us paralyzed, and keeps us from living to our fullest extent.
When our fears get out of control, we can shut down. They can paralyze us. But we’re here to live our lives well, and if we don’t deal with our fears and keep them in their proper place, then they can keep us from finding the joy in life that is the birthright of all of us.
That’s what fear does. It takes away from our lives, while robbing us of the joy of living. Maybe right now, we are not living the life we want to live because of fear of failure, loss, or the judgment of others. We make so many choices in life because of our fears, but if we learn to honor them and deal with them appropriately, we can find that life is a beautiful adventure, and we can face it with fearlessness.
But in order to control our fears, we need to approach them rationally. It’s not necessary to live life with reckless abandon; instead, we can sit with the realization that if we take a certain action, we may experience a result that we don’t want to happen.
I suspect you’ve heard of the condition called agoraphobia — a fear of being in certain situations where escape feels impossible. Some people think of it as a fear of crowds, but it’s a little more complex than that. People who have agoraphobia may be fearful in a crowded market, or they may feel panicked on a freeway while surrounded by cars. Instead of facing their fears, they stay closer to home, until finally they are stuck at home — some never to leave home again because of their fear. About 1 percent of our population lives this way — stuck at home, for perhaps the rest of their lives.
Maybe you don’t know someone who has agoraphobia. But don’t you know someone who is making decisions that keep them stuck in life because they are fearful of embracing change? Perhaps they’re at a job that they hate, but they’re afraid to quit because of the consequences? Or maybe they’re fearful of pursuing their life’s passion because they’re afraid of what others might think?
There are many ways that fears control us, yet they don’t have to if we just do a few things. One of the things we can do to begin to overcome our fears is to face them. We can look our fears straight in the eye, no matter what they are, and say, “I’m not going to let you control my life.”
Many years ago, I developed a fear of driving on high overpasses because I thought I might crash and die. But I knew that I wasn’t afraid of death. This allowed me the courage to look directly at that fear and say, “OK. If I die on an overpass, so be it.” I realized I could handle the result of possibly having an accident, crashing, and dying from a high overpass, so I decided to go ahead and stop avoiding those situations. Guess what? The fear went away.
We look at the fear and we say, “I may not want that to happen, but I can do that." I know how hard that is to do, but it can work if we allow ourselves to try it.
Some fears are quite a bit more complex than a fear of heights. What if our fear is that my teenager will start using drugs and die? Or that the person I love will fall in love with someone else and leave me? Our fears can be very scary. Mostly, they never come true, but having them can keep us from living.
If we tell ourselves that something can’t be allowed to happen, then we are gripped and paralyzed by fear. But if we say, “I would prefer that this outcome not happen, but I can live with it if it does, and I will get by,” then that fear has lost its grip and its power over us.
What will happen is that fear will have nothing to hang on to, and it won’t have any way to feed, and the fear will lose its power and will have to go away. This doesn’t mean that we don’t prepare; it means that we prepare wisely and without the fog of fear standing in the way of our reason.
Another thing we can do is quit feeding our fears, whether externally or internally.
An external fear is one that we are fed by outside influences, like the 24-hour news cycle or worrisome acquaintances who are always imagining worst-case scenarios.
We must ask ourselves, what are we watching on our news or on our apps? What kinds of conversations are we having? If we are consuming nearly nonstop content that feeds our fear, or if we are continually imagining and discussing the worst possible outcomes from any situation, our fear grows more and more powerful.
As I mentioned, fear can also be fed internally, by our own negative mental pictures of possible outcomes. We need to remind ourselves that negative self-talk is not helpful. The solution to this kind of thinking is to be fully present in the moment and to give our attention to the beautiful things in our life. It can take time to break these fears, but when we spend time with them, we do well. In time, we can become fearless.
We can have such beautiful lives, but we must focus on having fearless lives. The rewards we receive are beyond measure.