I think we can all agree, 2020 has brought a dizzying number of changes into our lives. We’re finding new ways to adapt to this post-lockdown world. Some aren’t so bad (increased family time and better hand-washing), however, its dark side has ushered in uncertainty and cemented a paralyzing fear of the unknown for some.
I know from experience that illogical fear can be debilitating. I’ve worked through my own phobias over the years (fear of elevators, public speaking, and most poignantly, raising a son with Down Syndrome). I know how fear can stop our growth and kill our dreams. To completely eradicate fear, we first need to understand and identify which fears can be helpful and which are not.
First, let’s identify “healthy” and “real” fears.
Healthy fear typically manifests as a visceral, instinctual response to a physical threat. We need this type of fear for our survival and protection. For example, if you are standing on a high ledge, healthy fear kicks in and cautions you to step back. It keeps you safe. Listen to that inner voice; it will not lead you astray.
Real fears are unavoidable. We all worry about not achieving our dreams. We fear losing the people we love most. Can these fears consume us? It depends on how you frame them. If you fear losing people you love, put your energy toward being completely engaged when spending time with them. Fully appreciate that they are here now. Real fear cannot be eliminated, but we can transform it into something empowering.
Let’s talk about illogical fears. These are the worries that keep you awake at night and hijack your daytime thoughts. Are you terrified of spiders? Heights? Cockroaches? Do you avoid driving on freeways? Imagine what your life would be like if this fear was eliminated. Here’s an exercise to work through those dark thoughts. They worked for me. They can work for you, too.
Name Your Fear
Think about the fears in your life. Identify your most prominent, illogical fear, and build an action plan to eliminate it. Consider how your life, relationships, or specific experiences would change if this fear were removed. Got it? You’re ready for your next step.
Diminish Your Fear
Now that you’ve identified your fear, recognize it when it pops into your head. Instead of panicking, stop and ask, “Why am I thinking about this in a fearful way?” Look at that fear with skepticism and curiosity. Is it really real?
Taking small steps to disarm our phobia may seem like shoveling snow with a spoon. But, little by little, they add up to regaining control of your thoughts.
For instance, if you have an upcoming flight but hate to fly, download a few meditations and practice them before you go to the airport. By doing this, you’re creating a space in your mind you can easily access when fear arises, and from that place of calm, you can reassure yourself.
Create a Mantra
Turn your fear into an affirmative mantra. Let’s say the local Rotary Club asked you to address the members at their next meeting. Avoid negative self-talk and, instead, create an affirmative mantra: “I am fully prepared. Everything I have to say is helpful, well-founded, and something I believe in. I will appear cool, calm, and confident.” Don’t let negative self-talk limit your potential for greatness.
Now that you have awareness and some tools, it’s time to put them into action.
Step One: Put Aside Time in the Morning
Take some time to think about your fears and facing them in the morning when you are fresh and motivated. It has been scientifically proven that our willpower and psychological stamina are at their strongest in the morning and wane throughout the day. This is why for anyone who has ever dieted (which is basically everyone), it is so easy to choose a smoothie for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and then make an unhealthy choice around dinnertime.
Step Two: Challenge Fear-Based Thoughts
Let’s say you have a debilitating fear of flying. Think about hopping a plane to visit loved ones. Visualize the terminal, security lines, and boarding. You may begin to feel your chest tighten or your breath quicken because you’re certain the flight will end in a disaster. Ask yourself:
Challenging your thoughts in this way gets to the root of the fear and destroys it. If your fears have nowhere to grow, eventually, they will die.
Step Three: Exposure
In order to overcome your fears, you must confront them. But do this in small doses. Taking on too much, too quickly, can backfire.
Let’s say you have a fear of stepping outside your home. Gradual exposure can look like this:
Identifying and working with fear is like exercising a muscle for the first time: it might feel unnatural, but soon you’ll look forward to it. These steps worked for me. Using these thoughts and tools, I can now step into an elevator without a second thought. I thoroughly enjoy publicly speaking and feel alive when I do it. Most importantly, I learned to tackle my fear of raising a son with a disability. I began to recognize and celebrate the unique gifts he brings to our family and how he has helped me become a more evolved human being.
I’m free. Now it’s your turn.
About the Author: Monica Berg is an international speaker, spiritual thought leader, and chief communications officer of the Kabbalah Centre. She is the author of “Fear is Not an Option” and “Rethink Love.” She is also the host of the podcast “Spiritually Hungry.” A self-proclaimed “change junkie,” Monica is a fresh voice that channels her many years of Kabbalah study along with personal life experiences. Monica shows individuals how to create a life that not only feels like it’s working but most importantly, a life in which they are living and loving as the powerful, fulfilled person they’ve always wanted to be.