Overcoming Fear

Overcoming fear is absolutely possible and you can begin now to overcome yours. How am I so sure? I know because I pushed through my fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of bridges, fears of rejection and of writing and painting.  Conquering fear is possible when you have the motivation, the tools and persistence to deal with it. 

I had horrible fears of flying but earned my pilot’s license. I can walk on bridges now and soon will be hanging my paintings in a gallery. I'm not saying the process is easy. But I do know that with guts and determination you and anyone you know can conquer any fear you might have. 

All you need is the motivation and desire to change your thinking and then the determination and courage to move forward. With some effort, you will succeed and become a stronger person with solid confidence and positive self esteem. You will feel pride in your accomplishment. Overcoming fear is absolutely possible. Check out What Causes Fear to understand its origins.

                “What you feed grows. What you starve dies.” Anonymous

Fear is one thing. Anxiety is related to fear but it is a chronic apprehension. For definitions of fear and anxiety and help with understanding these emotions, have a look at the first few paragraphs of List of Fears.

For information on anxiety, go to Anxiety Disorder. Have a look at Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder to discover its origins and at Help for Anxiety for the tools to deal with it. Also go to Panic Attack and Fear of Flying for help and support.

The sources for this information on overcoming fear are professionals in their fields. In some cases the material comes from people who have studied and developed successful and respected self help programs based upon their own personal challenges with anxieties and phobias. I also write from my own personal experiences for overcoming fear.

Ten Tops Ways for Overcoming Fear

1. Get to know yourself better. Finding out who we are and what we have to offer the world is a major life quest. It’s also one of the major ways to conquer fear. When you know yourself, you will also begin to understand your apprehension. To help this process, ask yourself these top questions for overcoming fear:

  • What are my dreams?
  • What are my passions?
  • What are the things I love to do?
  • What is important to me?

For support with the process of growth and understanding, start a journal. Writing is one of the best ways, along with meditation to get to know yourself. Writing helps in overcoming fear.

A study on the benefits of writing as a healing practice was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Here is the study’s context — “Non pharmacological treatments with little patient cost or risk are useful supplements to pharmacotherapy in the treatment of patients with chronic illness." 

Set aside 5 – 15 minutes every day for writing. The act of writing will not only refresh your mind, body and soul, but it is one of the top methods for self-discovery and healing.

Ten years ago, I started writing ‘morning pages’ using Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way. This is a terrific self discovery guide. Also have a look at Values of Life for help with understanding the things that are important to you. Knowing yourself is crucial for overcoming fear.  

 To help your writing process, go to Journal Writing Prompts. Here are three top questions to answer in your journal —

  1. What am I afraid of? Make a list. Describe your fear(s). Give it/them a color and shape. Create a drawing too. This creative tool works because by naming your fear, you become aware of it. When you give it a shape and identity, you acknowledge it and can begin the elimination process.
  2. What do I want in life?
  3. Who or what is stopping me from getting what I want?

Fear of failure is the biggest fear people have. It is closely related to fear of criticism and rejection. Success and freedom from fear is possible. Motivate yourself by visualizing the things you love to do. Begin by creating a vision board.

2. Think of the benefits of overcoming fear and the cost of missed opportunities. Taking risks gives huge rewards. I love flying now, for example. It has given me a greater sense of pride of accomplishment because it was so difficult.

3. Take action bold, decisive action. Do something frightening. Since fear of failure is immobilizing you, you must act.

I know this from experience. About 60 hours into my pilot training, my instructor said, “You’re ready for your first solo flight now.” I returned home and for the next two weeks had the most terrible nightmares you could imagine. I ran out of fuel mid air, crashed into fields, flew into mountains, and taxied into hangers too narrow for the aircraft. I didn’t have to watch horror movies, they were in my head.

After two weeks of not flying my husband, my instructor and I met at the Brampton Flying Club. My instructor said, “Lynda, I’m no Freud. But you are taking lessons so you can fly a plane. Flying a plane means flying it on your own. I can’t give you more lessons until you fly solo. You are good pilot. You are very capable of flying your plane. Now go home and think about this. Are you going to fly or not?”

Never in my life had I faced such insurmountable fear. I had already passed the ground theory part of flight test. I had my Radio Operators’ License and Student Pilot Permit which authorized me to fly solo. Bob had spent a ton of money on my lessons.

I’d invested a few hundred hours of my time to that point. For another week I battled with my inner demons. I tried to convince myself to give up the time and money and walk away. But I couldn’t. I just could not let myself off the hook. I felt so embarrassed by my impotence. So I got into the car, drove to the airplane and soloed. And up there, was I afraid? Not a bit. I was so focused on managing the aircraft and making radio calls that I didn’t have the liberty to be afraid.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Distracting yourself with bigger concerns than your fear is a huge solution to overcoming fear.

4. Take small steps. This might seem opposite to the point above. You will have to decide which is better for your particular fear — bold decisive action or small steps. I didn’t have the option of small steps. For me it was either staying on the ground or flying in the air on my own.

But if you have the option and your fear is overwhelming you, start small. For example, if you have fear of public speaking and know you have to give a speech well enough in advance, start by greeting people more on the street. Talk more in group conversations. Offer your opinions. Get out of your own skin more. Move forward slowly. Develop small steps for overcoming fear.

5. Get rid of your negative thoughts. For help with this, go to Self Doubt.

6. See failure from a different perspective. Think back to the time you were learning to ride a bike. Did you fall a few times? I know I did. Did you stop cycling? I bet not. You got back on that bicycle seat with your scraped knees and eventually rode off. Now you can develop that same motivation because you want to feel successful in overcoming your fear.

7. Do things differently. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something else. There’s a saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Another saying is, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve got.”

8. Persist. If you want to conquer your fear, don’t give up. Keep at it.

9. Don’t give yourself a way out. When success and failure are the only options, do what the leaders of ancient Greek armies did to keep the armies fighting. They burnt the boats upon landing on shore so there was no going back.

10. Celebrate your success at overcoming fear. Acknowledging your achievements will encourage you to keep moving forward.

Overcoming Fear That is Specific

1. Fear of public speaking: if you have anxiety and public speaking, the only solution is to find opportunities to speak. From my personal experience and from mentoring many speakers in the Toastmaster program over a ten year period, with practice you will get rid of this number one fear. Also have a look at Public Speaking. and Self Doubt.

You’ll have the most success if you change your perspectives. Here are statements to write down and repeat to yourself over and over again —

  • I have the ability to speak in front of others.
  • I can go with the flow rather than resist it.
  • Others will value me if I am ‘myself’.
  • I will not appear anxious to others even if I feel apprehensive inside.
  • People are not hoping I’ll make a mistake.
  • By focusing on what I want to say, I will forget my fear.
  • By practicing my speech over and over again, I’ll perform well.

2. Fear of flying: if you fear flying, you are also not alone. Twenty per cent of the population is afflicted with this fear. It has the number two spot on the list of fears.

Here are actions to take —

  1. Find out how planes fly. Know that a plane can glide for a long distance.
  2. If feeling confined or heights is a problem, choose an aisle seat.
  3. Give yourself lots of time to catch the flight. Avoid rushing.
  4. Have a friend fly with you for distraction.
  5. Fly short distances at first if possible.
  6. Take reading material and other things to occupy your thoughts. Watch a movie.
  7. Use medication is absolutely necessary. Avoid caffeine.

3. Claustrophobia: engage in some cognitive self therapy. Get help to challenge your false idea that being in a crowed space is life threatening. Start small. Choose short tunnels and short bus trips. Shift your thinking. Easy does it. Also, look at the benefits of travel and other opportunities you are missing.

4. Fear of disease: start by becoming aware of your fear of illness. After becoming aware stop researching illnesses and going to doctors for continual reassurance. The risk of having a life threatening disease is very low.

5. Dental phobia:

  • Find an understanding and supportive dentist.
  • Learn panic control techniques.
  • Stop exaggerating and reinforcing your phobia.
  • Gradually reinforce your exposure to your fear. 

6. Blood/injection phobia: 

Here is a list of steps to take —

  1. Read an article about bleeding.
  2. Look at photos of blood.
  3. Look at photos of injuries involving blood.
  4. Watch videos or movies involving blood and injuries.
  5. Visit a blood bank.
  6. Try to arrange a viewing of a veterinarian surgery.

For injection phobia try —

  1. looking at photos of people receiving an injection.
  2. looking at videos of people receiving an injection.
  3. visiting a doctor’s office to see someone getting a shot.
  4. handling syringes.
  5. having a health care professional touch your skin with a syringe.
  6. receiving a shot in the arm.
  7. having blood drawn as in a blood test.

7. Fear of vomiting: first find out whether you are afraid of vomiting or a rejection of others who might see you vomiting. Or is it a fear of losing control of your body? You need to identify the core fear. Once you know the fear, gradually expose yourself to situations where you have to face it.

8. Fear of heights: this fear often combines with fear of flying, elevators and bridges. Here are the steps for overcoming this fear — With careful strategies, overcoming fear is not too difficult.

  1. Go to the second story of a building and look out the window for seconds. Have someone with you.
  2. Look out of the second story of a building for two to five minutes. Look straight out and then down.
  3. Repeat steps one and two with phone access, then alone.
  4. Go to the third story of a building and look out the window for thirty seconds with someone with you.
  5. Look out the third story for two to five minutes. Look straight out and then down.
  6. Repeat steps one and two with phone access, then alone.
  7. Continue this process going progressively to higher and higher floors. Take an elevator after floor four.
  8. Continue advancing to higher floors in small increments until to reach the highest floor in a building available to you.
  9. Go out onto a balcony with a support person at a low floor. Go out onto higher floor balconies.
  10. Go out onto balconies for longer durations moving progressively closer to the guardrail.

9. Animal and insect phobias: Overcoming fear of animals and insects involves gradual exposure as with fear of heights.

  1. Draw a picture of the animal.
  2. Look at black and white photos.
  3. View color photos.
  4. Watch a video of the animal or insect.
  5. Handle a toy of the animal.
  6. Look at the animal from a distance in a pet store, zoo or wherever you can find it.
  7. Move closer to the creature.
  8. Watch someone touch or hold it. In the case of insects, be near the insect with someone who isn’t afraid of it.
  9. If your fear is an animal, hold it directly.

10. Fear of death: overcoming this fear may need some deep philosophical reflection on the meaning of life. Live your life to the fullest possible. Know that everyone has to deal with the reality of death one day.

Fear of the death of a loved one is difficult. But it is also an opportunity to develop the inner strength to stand on your own in the absence of a loved one. Read books about the existence of an afterlife. Try hypnotherapy for overcoming fear. With effort and persistence, overcoming fear is totally possible. By facing your fears, you will become stronger, more confident and proud of the person you are.

The Story of How I Conquered My Fears

A few years ago a friend asked me to trek with her in the Nepal Himalaya all the way to Everest Base Camp where narrow wood bridges with broken boards swing high above the rivers below. I was terrified at the thought of it. But I pushed myself. The bridges and ancient narrow trails at the cliff edges were frightening. But Mount Everest was worth the fear.

After we arrived back home from Nepal, my husband, bought a small airplane (He is a pilot.) Then he asked me to fly from Ontario to British Columbia with him through four mountain chains. I asked him to find someone else.

He persisted. Eventually I gave in and after a lot of planning off we flew. But being in the cockpit and not knowing how to land was worse than the fear of heights. So eventually I earned my license.

For many years I had an easel with a blank canvas sitting on it. Then I realized that unless I painted a little every day without any expectations or judgments, I'd never get anywhere. Now my paintings hang on the walls of our home. I feared writing and am part way though a book. I know now that my feelings of rejection are the stories I've told myself since childhood, where most of our fears arise. 

These tales were a part of my own private drama. Now, when these feelings of apprehension return, I can flick them away knowing they were simply figments of my imagination — the script I had written for myself. But back then I didn't have the tools I'm giving you now.  

I still feel queasiness with walking across rickety bridges and climbing in mountains. Sometimes I don't like what I've painted. But I don't fear the blank canvas anymore.

That’s what you are aiming for too — to recognize your fear, to know where it may have come from and if not to overcome your fear, at least to manage it.  

Books Consulted 

Overcoming Fear  

1. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D.

2. Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler Ph.D. and Tony Hope Ph.D.

3. From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life by Lucinda Bassett. Bassett is a former sufferer of anxiety, agoraphobia, panic attacks and depression. She is president of The Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety.

4. Free Yourself From Fear: Self Hypnosis For Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobias by Valerie Austin. Austin is an internationally renowned English hypnotherapist, trainer, lecturer, author and journalist.

5. 101 Exercises for the Soul: Simple Practices for a Healthy Body, Mind and Spirit by Dr. Bernie S. Siegel

6. Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies by Charles H. Elliott Ph.D. and Laura L. Smith Ph.D. 



Go from Overcoming Fear to List of Fears
Go to Self Esteem Home Page 

For top tips and resources --

* indicates required