Can you think of a time when you avoided doing something new or challenging because it was too scary? How did you feel afterwards? Perhaps you felt relieved or lighter, like a giant weight had been lifted off your chest. But as the sense of relief wore off, you may have felt regret because you missed out on something that could have been an amazing opportunity.
Relief & regret. Safety & boredom. Familiarity & loneliness. Comfort & weakness. Fear can lead to mixed thoughts and feelings. While avoidance due to fear often leads to a short term sense of safety, it can lead to dissatisfaction in the long term. Avoidance is fear’s best friend.
Contrary to what some people may believe, fear doesn’t make you weak. It is completely natural and serves an important purpose. It’s our brain’s amygdala shouting, “watch out!” when there is a car barreling down the wrong side of the road. In the moment, it feels like your heart is jumping out of your chest, you cannot form coherent sentences, and the only thing on your mind is getting out of harm’s way. If it weren’t for this instinct, the human species probably wouldn’t be here today.
However, our innate fear isn’t always helpful when it is working harder than it needs to. In modern times, we have countless tools that help alert us before we’re in a life threatening situation. Severe weather warnings, fire alarms, security cameras, watches that can monitor our vital signs, etc. We are living at the safest time in history. So why are people fearful in situations that are not life threatening? One reason is because our brains haven’t evolved as fast as society has.
Many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to overcome fear in life. Fear takes many different shapes and forms. One of the first steps in overcoming fear is to better understand what triggers it and how it's getting in the way of your success.
How does fear get in the way of success?
1. Fear can lead to loneliness and social isolation. Self-comparison can be an annoying tendency. It can cause you to spend extra time on social media, wondering why your lifestyle doesn't seem as impressive as everyone else's. It can keep you up at night, fearing that you will never be as successful as the people around you. This might result in keeping to yourself out of fear of judgment or rejection.
Our brains are wired to want to connect with others, but if you feel that you are going to be rejected, you might avoid a social interaction altogether. Or, you may keep certain parts of your personality hidden or refrain from sharing authentically. Because feelings of rejection activate the same areas of the brain that react to physical pain, people often go to great lengths not to be rejected.
However, the benefits of social connection usually far outweigh the fear that can be involved in creating those connections. Many studies show that those who feel connected socially feel happier, are healthier, and even live longer. If social anxiety is leading to frequent fear in social situations, counseling can be a great place to learn how to overcome this challenge.
2. Fear can keep you from trying new things. Our instincts to stay safe are strong. This can lead to a tendency to constantly screen every situation for potential threats. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being cautious. But some people find that intense fear leads to an excess of caution, which may result in anxiety.
When you’re afraid to try something new, it can be helpful to make a pro-con list to help weigh the potential risks and rewards. This can help you identify where you may be getting stuck and to really assess your motivation for doing something.
3. Fear can lead to anxiety. It’s natural to want to avoid situations that lead to stress. However, continually doing so can feed your fear. If you find that fear is keeping you up at night, preventing you from going to work or school, or keeping you from doing things that you enjoy, getting professional support is a great place to start.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, worry, and/or fear can help you examine how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are impacting each other. It can provide greater insight into the roots of your struggles and can be paired with several other therapeutic tools. When you get to know your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors more closely, you can strategize to conquer the unwanted patterns that are feeding your fear.
4. Fear can lead to health problems. When the body is in a state of fear, it is in ‘survival mode.’ This is why your breathing and heart rate change when you’re feeling scared. Frequently feeling fearful and/or tense can cause headaches, nausea, muscle tension, cardiovascular damage, fertility issues, and changes to your brain’s structure. When you’re not feeling well, you are also more likely to miss school, work, or social gatherings. This can further increase levels of stress and feelings of social isolation.
It is always important to consult your doctor regarding any physical health issues. Your doctor may recommend therapy to address the thought patterns and social stressors that may be contributing to your health struggles. While doctors often prescribe medication for certain issues, it is also important to have support for maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to sustain lasting improvements in your wellbeing.
5. Fear can prevent you from learning new things. Have you ever chosen to take an easier class or simpler job because you knew it would be less stressful? Or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, but you’d rather hide underneath your covers than speak in front of a group. Another place many people get stuck is trying to solve a problem for hours or even days when asking someone else for help might be the quickest, easiest solution.
Humans are highly intelligent, but we are not programmed to learn independently all the time. We learn from making mistakes, from asking others for help, and from trying things again and again until we get the outcome we were hoping for.
However, asking for help, making mistakes, and taking more time to learn doesn’t always feel comfortable. By addressing thought patterns that are keeping you stuck, finding a good support system, and developing the courage to make mistakes, you can increase your confidence and tackle new challenges.
Fear is inevitable, but failure is not! Overcoming fear is one of the most rewarding feelings there is! If you would like help developing the courage and tools you need to tackle a goal that is feeling scary or unattainable, I’d love to connect. Reach out today so we can discuss a possible strategy!