This is the final post in a three-part series on fear.
One time I tried to do a ropes course with my children that required me to stand on a telephone pole thirty feet high while strapped to a safety harness. While I knew rationally that I was safe, the terror that washed over me was profound. I felt just the way the boy looks in the Norman Rockwell paining above. I will never forget the powerful grip of my irrational fear made as I tried to stand on the narrow top of this very high pole, talking to myself all the while.
What can you do to try to overcome deeply ingrained irrational fears?
First, tackle your fears when you are otherwise pretty calm. Stress increases the intensity of all fear; so you want to start off feeling relaxed before you begin to tackle a fear. In this respect, it was fortunate that I was on vacation when I tried to stand on a narrow pole that terrified me.
Second, nurture a response to compete with your fear. This alternative response could be your resolve to overcome your fear, a powerful distraction, calm reassurance from someone you trust, or even your own curiosity or pride.
Third, start with small steps. So if , for example,you are trying to reduce your fear of heights, start with a step ladder. Stand on the first step as often as you need to until your fear lessens. Then try standing on the next step. If at any point you get overwhelmed, go back to a lower step. I once helped someone with a fear of airplanes by first discussing planes until he became comfortable, then having him read about planes until he was comfortable, then we went to an airport several times until his panic lessened, and then eventually we took a short flight together. I served as a soothing companion and voice of reason who could help keep my client's anxiety from skyrocketing.
While trying to overcome your fears, calm yourself with:
- soothing responses like deep breathing
- reassurance from someone you trust
- logical self talk that inspires an emotion other than fear
- powerful distractions
- whatever else you think might help
For example, if you are afraid of driving freeways, start off driving just from one exit to the next. Repeat your route until you feel somewhat comfortable, then drive two exits the next day. Keep driving two exits until you feel more comfortable. To initiate a response to compete with your fear, get someone to sit with you, put on music that is inspiring, soothing, or distracting, focus on deep breathing, or try some reassuring self talk.