How to Get Better at Facing Your Fears: According to Science
Tips for Overcoming Your Fears: Insights from Science
As children, facing our fears was a rite of passage, but as we get older, it can become more complicated. Fear is a basic human emotion designed to motivate us to avoid danger. However, you don’t always have to overcome your fears, as fear of real dangers can be helpful. In this article, we’ll explore what fear is, how it differs from anxiety and phobias, and what steps you can take to face your fears according to science.
Facing Fears: To Do or Not to Do?
It’s not uncommon to experience fear in life, whether it’s related to spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, or something else entirely. The question is, should you face your fear head-on or avoid it at all costs? According to experts, the answer depends on the situation.
When Avoidance Is an Option
If your fear is something that you can easily avoid, such as a giant tarantula, there may not be a compelling reason to face it. As Dr. Seth Gillihan, a licensed psychologist, explains, it’s all about conducting a cost-benefit analysis. If your phobia isn’t significantly affecting your life, you may choose to avoid it.
On the other hand, if avoiding the object of your fear could put you in danger, such as avoiding necessary medical treatment, facing your fear becomes a clear choice. In these situations, it’s important to consider the potential benefits of confronting your fear.
When Avoidance Is Not an Option
If your fear is something you can’t avoid, such as an elevator, facing your fear may be the best option. But, as Dr. Judith Stern, a clinical psychologist, points out, it’s up to the individual to decide whether to confront their fear. The key is to be honest with yourself, as fear can grow when we avoid things.
When Confrontation May Not Be the Answer
Confronting your fear isn’t always the best option. For instance, if you’re in an abusive relationship, confronting your abuser could lead to further harm. In this case, Stern advises that the best approach may be to avoid harm until you can safely remove yourself from the situation.
Tips for Facing Your Fears
If you decide to face your fear, it’s important to approach the situation with the right mindset. Here are some tips from Gillihan and Stern to help you do just that:
- Stop Judging Yourself: Reframe how you look at fear by considering it as information your body is telling you, rather than something to judge yourself for.
- Slow Down and Breathe From Your Belly: Take deep, slow breaths from your belly to activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you think more clearly.
- Be an Emotion Scientist: Listen to your fear and be curious about what’s driving it. Learn where your fear is coming from, and you might see a new way to face it.
- Practice Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations, such as “I’ve got this” or “I can do this.”
- Try Exposure Therapy: Gradually and incrementally expose yourself to what you fear over time in a safe place. You can use self-guided cognitive behavior therapy books or workbooks if you can’t afford therapy.
- Medications May Help: Medications like beta blockers and benzodiazepines can be helpful in treating specific fears and phobias, but it’s important to discuss these options with your doctor.
The Benefits of Facing Your Fears
Although facing your fears can be a daunting task, the payoff can be significant. According to Gillihan, the feeling of triumph and freedom that comes from facing your fears is worth the effort. Once you decide to confront your fear, there’s almost nothing that can hold you back.