A famous Japanese proverb states that “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows”, and this is something that is backed by research now. As per scientific studies, fear is a purely psychological phenomenon, but it shows itself in physical symptoms. Fear can paralyze you and get in the way of your daily life, so learning how to get rid of fear is important.
What is fear?
We aren’t born with fears but most of the fears of our adult life have origins in our early experiences. As we grow older, we teach our brains to classify certain perceptions as threats or stressors. These kickstart the fear response and put us in fight-or-flight mode.
Fear is a healthy human emotion and reaction. It is built into your nervous system and works on a subconscious level from when you are a child. It is what bestows you with your instincts and abilities to survive when you are faced with potential threats and dangers.
Healthy fears tend to be natural and allow you to keep yourself safe from harm. Healthy fear is when you see a predator and run away to save yourself.
Unhealthy fears, on the other hand, tend to be unnatural and unnecessary. The fact that it originates in your mind doesn’t make it any less real, and dismissing fear as being “only in your head” is technically true but doesn’t reduce the very real effect it in any way. Unhealthy levels of fear can have detrimental effects on your mental health.
While fears can be hard to work with, they aren’t bad for you unless they get in the way of your daily life or begin to affect your behaviour for the worse.
The good news is that just as fears are learned, they can be unlearned. There are numerous techniques, strategies and therapies you can read about as you learn how to get rid of fear.
Is it fear or phobia? Anxiety or panic?
Fear is an emotion that many of us confuse with anxiety, stress, panic and worry. While these feelings are not exactly fear, they all share some similarities.
What is fear?
Most fears are based around things that may hurt us (injections), uncontrolled nature (deep water or storms), animals (snakes, sharks) or things that seem unnatural to us (flying) and stem from a primitive fight-or-flight response. But fear exists only while the stressor is present and requires us to interact with it. As soon as we are away from the thing that frightens us, the fear fades. This kind of fear is transient and it does not usually affect your health and wellbeing.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety can be more serious. We worry about something that is yet to come and are never really free of the feeling. If you are anxious about speaking in public at your friend’s wedding, the anxiety will grow less when the event is over, but an anxiety disorder keeps the individual in a state of high stress for long periods. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult a professional.
What is a phobia?
A phobia is an irrational fear of a specific thing or situation such as spiders, closed spaces, or flying. Specific phobias are fairly common and can usually be traced back to our childhood.
The fear of the object or situation tends to be so intense in most cases that the individual may experience the physical symptoms of fear or may even suffer from panic attacks. We’ll talk about phobias later in this article because phobias require different types of treatment.
When does fear go from a normal emotion to a problem?
As you learn how to overcome the fear of something, you must understand that it is a natural human emotion and something that you will face repeatedly in your life. Feeling fear is not what matters; it is how to overcome the important fear.
However, if your fear becomes debilitating and gets in the way of your regular life, it becomes a problem. The physical symptoms of fear are an elevated heartbeat, shallow breathing, excessive perspiration, and rising blood pressure. Apart from the physical symptoms, you may go out of your way to avoid certain situations or stressors.
These are normal reactions to fear, but if you find yourself developing extreme behaviour to avoid certain situations, you may need to talk to an expert. Ask your general practitioner for a recommendation.
How to overcome the fear of something
If your fear is getting in the way of your daily life but is relatively new or appears to have minor symptoms, your doctor may recommend simple lifestyle changes to help you gain control of your mind and health. All of us deal with high levels of stress and never-ending To-Do lists. When we become overwhelmed or exhausted by this over time, we are more prone to developing mental health troubles or nurturing negative thoughts.
Here are some changes that teach you how to overcome the fear of something:
- Ensuring you get regular exercise or some form of physical activity
- Eating well-balanced and healthy meals at regular intervals
- Maintaining a regular sleeping schedule
- Avoiding or minimizing stimulants like alcohol and caffeine
However, if your symptoms are more serious, your doctor might suggest consulting a trained professional such as a therapist for cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) – a kind of psychological therapy that helps you become aware of thought patterns and behaviour so that you can get better.
Phobias and how to overcome the fear of specific things
A phobia is more likely to be disruptive to daily life than regular fear. It has been found that people who are genetically predisposed to anxiety disorders are more susceptible to phobia, but anyone can develop a phobia.
Before you learn how to get rid of fear or phobia, you should identify the stressor and get to the root of it. Even the simplest phobias can affect your ability to go about your daily life whether at home, in the office, or socially. Some of the most common phobias are:
- Fear of small spaces or being confined
- Fear of water
- Fear of the doctor
- Fear of the dark
- Fear of heights
- Fear of certain animals
- Fear of insects
- Fear of blood and being injured
- Fear of vomiting
- Fear of leaving behind familiar settings
- Fear of injections
- Fear of flying
Those who suffer from phobias tend to prefer avoiding their triggers rather than going through the distress of dealing with them. If you suffer from a phobia you may even know that your fears are excessive but continue to be afraid.
When you have a phobia, you may notice some of these physical symptoms when you think about or come close to your stressors:
- Racing heart and pulse
- Upset stomach
- Inability to breathe
A phobia interferes with important parts of everyday life. If you have a phobia of a dentist or a hospital, you are unlikely to get medical or dental help when needed. If you have a phobia of closed spaces, you may not be able to enter an elevator or an ATM vestibule. In these cases, it is important to get professional advice. A phobia can be treated by counseling or if needed, by medication.
Strategies to learn how to get rid of fear
A therapist might make use of the following strategies to help you learn how to overcome the fear that continues to interfere with the quality of your life:
- Mindfulness involves bringing your awareness to the present and acknowledging all your thoughts, physical sensations and feelings without labelling or judging them in any manner
- Exposure therapy is based on learning how to get rid of fear by understanding it and slowly opening yourself up to it in a controlled environment
- Relaxation which tends to be specific to each individual, focuses on calming down the mind and body so that it is better equipped to deal with threats and stressors
- Cognitive restructuring is based on pinpointing your negative thoughts, debating them and coming up with better ways to respond to common threats and situations
You could also consider taking up e-therapy with a counsellor online or computer-aided psychological therapy as an effective option.
Most of these online therapies are based on the same principles that guide Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) simply known as behaviour therapy. They empower you to learn to understand and alter thought patterns that lead to your anxiety or stop you from overcoming them. Some of the most common methods employed by this form of psychological treatment of fear are:
- Teaching about anxiety
- Relaxation training such as progressive muscle relaxation and isometric relaxation
- Cognitive restructuring
- Controlled breathing and breathing exercises to regulate hyperventilating
- Graded exposure therapy
You can go through the entire online program on your own but help is always at hand through telephone, instant messaging or even email. Such therapies have the dual benefit of ease of access and convenience. You can do them at any time, and from anywhere, as they don’t require you to visit a doctor first.
Fear Ladder therapy to help you get rid of fear
Many of our fears do not interfere with our daily life. For example, if you’re scared of sharks or tarantulas, you can simply choose to avoid holiday destinations where there is a chance of coming into contact with one.
However, if you are scared of syringes, you will need to learn how to overcome the fear of them because it will prevent you from getting vaccinations, dental work, or medical treatment when necessary. In such cases, getting over your fear is important and you should use a form of treatment that makes it easy for you.
Out of all the strategies used to overcome fear, exposure therapy or a fear ladder has consistently been reported as one of the most effective ones at fighting fear. With a fear ladder technique, you will proceed through a series of steps that help you grow accustomed to the stressor and the idea that you can participate in an activity that scared you previously.
If you have a fear of flying, for example, you could set yourself the goal of taking a flight and work towards it in the following manner:
- Viewing photos and or watching videos of planes in flight
- Visiting airfields or airports with a friend, loved one or by yourself
- Taking a ride in plane simulators either with someone or on your own
- Working up the courage to take a small flight with a loved one
- Taking a short flight on your own
With this process, you identify and acknowledge the fear, set a goal for yourself, and plan a series of small steps towards this goal. This teaches you how to overcome the fear you feel by allowing yourself the time and space to get used to it and to be in control of your exposure to it.
Self-help measures that teach you how to get rid of fear
There are a number of things you can make do on your own as you learn how to overcome the fear in your life:
Foster positive thinking
Bring a higher element of positivity into your life by altering your thought process. If you’re spending too much time speculating about your fears, resist the temptation and redirect your thinking towards the present moment.
Practice breathing exercises
When you feel fear build up, practice this simple breathing exercise. Pause for a moment, breathe slowly for ten breaths. Take calm breaths that come from the belly, inhaling slowly and exhaling even slower.
Fake it till you make it
If you pretend that you’re not afraid, you’ll feel calmer and less scared. As you do this more often, you’ll be able to alter your thoughts and feelings.
Exercise is a powerful tool that you can leverage as you learn how to get rid of fear. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that boost your mood and make you feel happier and more positive, leaving less room for negative thoughts or anxiety. Go for a power walk, a swim or a run every time you feel fear building up.
Face your fears
If you’re tired of fear holding you back, try and work out how to get rid of fear or overcome it. By acknowledging and accepting your feelings, you learn how to get rid of fear and start taking small steps to reduce its impact on your life.
While your fears are yours to conquer, you don’t have to fight this battle all on your own. Seek the support of your loved ones whenever you feel overwhelmed by fear. If you don’t feel like telling them about your fear, just spend time with them. This helps because when you’re with loved ones, your body releases oxytocin which helps strengthen existing relationships and is also responsible for dulling the effects of fear.
Change your perspective
Instead of succumbing to fear, try to look at it from another perspective. Try to look at the likelihood of your worst fears coming true and consider how much your fear is preventing you from doing so. When you put yourself at the centre of your story instead of your fear, you will feel brave and more in control. This is one way you can see how to get rid of fear and not let negative feelings hold you back.