How to Deal With Fear

The Nature of Fear

I have a bad habit of letting fear paralyze me. The reasons for this are deeply rooted in my subjective experience during childhood and many of them have very little to do with either objective reality or the present. And, digging into the past to uncover the whys and wherefores of this habit is truly less important that figuring out how to change the habit.

I have many of the same basic fears as every other human – of dying, being abandoned, not being loved, losing loved ones, not having enough food, safety, shelter, etc.

My fears that are more personal to me come from the intersection of the more general fears and my personal experience.

So, having been praised for good grades and stellar academic work as I child, I connected a sense of love from my family with perfect performance at school. Eventually, this warped into a perceived need to be perfect in my achievements in order to be loved. From my current perspective, I know that this is not true. I have seen my family embrace imperfect people with deep love, but the conclusions I came to as a child about how the world works still hold sway in my subconscious processing.

Over the decades, I have shied away from many opportunities because I feared I would not be seen as competent at first. I have a perennial discomfort with things I do not know or understand. As a result, I have not stretched far enough out of my own comfort zone to grow into the person I always hoped I would be.

But, I keep growing. As I get older, I see the value in stretching beyond my comfort zone, and through practice, the experience of stretching is slowly becoming part of my comfort zone. And, as a result, I am developing courage and grit in new and beneficial ways.

Dealing with Fear

1. Notice how fear shows up in your life

For me, fear often shows up as procrastination. If there is something I think I want to do but don’t do, there is often a fear behind it.

Fear shows up as emotional numbness. If I stop enjoying things that usually bring me pleasure, I maybe blocking uncomfortable feelings. For me, fear and anger are the two most likely culprits.

2. Take action

Identify the fear.

If it is a rational fear, take what steps you can to mitigate the risks involved.

Do something that is part of the task triggering the fear. A small step is often enough to get over the emotional speedbump that is stopping you.

3. Rinse and repeat

Over time, the power that fear has over you will diminish.

How do I know? Because years of practice as an actor have taught me how to move forward in performance and public speaking despite fear. I know that these simple to explain, but not always so easy to do, steps applied in any one fear-making direction will eventually change my comfort zone.

And, I know from my own experience that my art, my work, and my personal life all benefit from this approach to not letting fear stand in my way.

I am always interesting in learning how to move past fear. What do you use to move forward when courage is required?

6 thoughts on “How to Deal With Fear

  1. Tobin says:

    “I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing….only I will remain.

    The Litany Against Fear, from Dune by Frank Herbert.

    Fear truly is the mindkiller. I have seen, and continue to see people paralyzed by fear when anyone else from the outside knows that they can do the task they fear.

    Though, I’m one to talk. At work, I am fearless. I’ll take on anything and accept it as a learning experience. However, in day to day life? Yes, fear has stopped me as well. Fear, for me, is lack of experience with the subject. I fear what I do not know.

    So, over the years, I feared driving, I feared parenthood, I feared public speaking, I feared interviews…and I don’t fear any of them any more.

    I guess we need to get close to our fears, get to know them, to understand them. Then, they won’t be fears anymore.

    • Kate says:

      I love that Litany of Fear from Dune. It is so true.

      The willingness to step through the unknowing to knowing can be cultivated, but it isn’t always easy.

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. Dale Long says:

    If Tobin get to quote, then so do I.
    “What are fears but voices airy?
    Whispering harm where harm is not.
    And deluding the unwary
    Till the fatal bolt is shot!”
    Ok, so maybe that isn’t the best example of an inspirational quote.
    Great points on how to recognize and overcome. I think that is the hardest part. Fear is like the bully in the school yard. It thrives on belittlement and intimidation. And everyone is a victim to it.
    Heights, spiders, death, divorce.
    Lack of confidence is fear disguised. I struggle with that demon. My defense is a mask of bravado. A need for acceptance. It is a battle I think I am slowly winning.
    Death, on the other hand…

    • Kate says:

      I suspect that it is a battle we never do more than progress against. If we keep growing, we keep entering new and unknown realms of life and fear always accompanies encounters with the unknown.
      On the other hand, we have the opportunity to learn how to manage fear, and act anyway.


  3. You sound a lot like me! 😉 Yes, learning to deal with the fear is what’s most important. Thank you for your sharing. Hearing of your dance through and past fear helps me to feel stronger as I do my own similar dance.

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