To suffering there is a limit; to fearing, none – Francis Bacon.
I was enjoying my afternoon stroll on the trail and when I went into a more isolated but still safe, area thoughts of fear suddenly came from nowhere. As I hurried towards the more populated path, I thought – what would it be like to have no fear? Patanjali (the ancient yogi) defines fear as an obstacle to the path of self-awareness and happiness. From my understanding, he refers to the ultimate fear or the fear of death, in which all other fears are deeply rooted.
Life Without Fear
Where does the fear come from? I tried to remember why I was afraid of spiders. All I could think of was the memory of my friend’s mom’s yelling “bloody murder” every time she would spot a tiny creature. Let’s step back even more and look at our ancient ancestors. Imagine the old world with wild animals and natural disasters, full of strange things, where death could come at any time. Mix these memories, store them deeply in the brain, and voila. We carry these memories with us even though there is so much less danger in today’s world. Our senses feed our minds as we constantly sort through the information. The mind is like a good old computer, constantly trying to find a match in the memory to make sense of the situation. Otherwise, why would we have a fear of death if we have never died before? Why would we fear something that we don’t even know? Is the real fear to let go of the known?
Reflecting on my earlier years, I had nearly no fear of death. At the age of 11, I realized that I was going to die on or by my 30th birthday. I thought it would be most likely a car accident. I guess 30 seemed like an old age back then. There was nothing to be afraid of and, even though my life would be somewhat short, it would be very fun and fulfilling. After all, I have 20 more years to live – not so bad, considering that I wouldn’t have to deal with the burden of work, marriage, childbirth, family, and other responsibilities that come with age. Not to mention dealing with aging and disease. For sure, I had to hurry up and get in as much fun as I could before I went into the realm of non-existence.
I started smoking at the age of 12; I got drunk for the first time when I was 13, which continued for quite a few years. I partied hard. I drank like a sailor and overindulged in foods. I made so many friends with all kinds of humans, such as junkies, the wealthy, intellectuals, aristocrats, and thieves, to name a few. I traveled. I danced all night. I rode motorcycles with strangers through dusty streets and abandoned highways. I am still not sure how I didn’t die or get hurt during that time. To say the least, I am very fortunate. By the time I turned 18, I was starting to feel old, depressed, and tired. The self-injected clock started ticking; death was not too far away. I contemplated suicide. So, as you can see, having no fear can be reckless.
What Would You Do if You Had no Fear?
Quit your job, learn a new hobby, get a divorce? Well, in all reality, if we didn’t have any fear, we’d probably be dead. And, we know this because there are people whose amygdala (the part of the brain that causes you to process the fear response) deteriorated to the point where they stopped feeling fear. I recall reading about a person born with a congenital disorder where the amygdala degraded during childhood. She remembered being scared of the dark as a child but could not understand the concept of fear as she got older. She kept a diary outlining dangers that made me wonder how she (like myself) managed to stay alive at all? The gal had a gun pointed at her during a failed mugging, and instead of giving up her wallet, she responded in a witty fashion. So, having some fear is a good thing. Some of the fear helps us to survive. Yet, most of our fears are rooted in anticipation of an unknown future. As neuroscience peers ever deeper into the brain, it emerges that fear often has no “rational” basis at all but is triggered automatically by internal and external stimuli. That is to say; we don’t need to have a reason to feel fear.
As I was working on this article, I realized that the little girl inside me is still reckless and loud, while as an adult, I carry on with the responsibilities of life. In essence, I try to honor both aspects of myself to balance being reckless and not allowing fear to prevent me from enjoying life. I am often scared of losing my youth, my body, succumbing to illness, going out on crazy hikes solo, and scared of running a business. Yet, I do it anyway. And this is how my friends, we can cultivate true courage.
Combing Back to Balance
Luckily for me, sooner than later, I found myself wandering in the streets of New York City. It was a long road. I realized that I didn’t want to die by the age of 30, and for that to happen, something had to change for me to live. So I embarked on the road to a new beginning. Some of my old patterns finally died, and here I am now, still kicking. Go figure. As it turns out, life is great. There are none of the burdens or hardships that I imagined. In fact, I love getting older. Luckily, I found my life’s passion, which helps me tune into my inner guidance to differentiate between useful and useless fears. I often reflect on death and check to ensure that fear is not paralyzing me and keeping me from living. Yet, it also helps me keep things in perspective so that I can overcome the fear of living. Yoga has had a tremendous effect on my life.
So, let’s delve into is my list of top 5 ways to help you cope with fear.
Super Practical Guide on How to Overcome Fear (in 12 steps).
1) Slowly Increase your Tolerance for the Subject of your Fear.
Make it a gradual process. Treat yourself with compassion, not self-loathing. For example, I had a fear of heights, and these are the steps I took:
- Start small: I went on easy nearly flat hikes.
- Take lessons: I hired a private guide.
- Educate yourself on the subject: I read all about hiking trails, nutrition, proper footwear, and real dangers.
- Keep practicing: When I lived in the city, I allocated weekends during the hiking season and signed up for hikes. Eventually, I moved to live closer to trails. So, facing my fears led me to achieve my greatest dreams!
- Be persistent: In the beginning, it was draining to learn something new and put forth so much effort to face my fears in addition to dealing with fatigue, but I kept practicing.
My fears didn’t go away completely. Yet, I keep pushing myself to go to the new rights. Mostly, I feel like I am aware of the danger, but it does not paralyze me. By overcoming my fear of heights, I now rock-climb, ski, and enjoy outdoor life. In addition, I merge my passion for yoga and the outdoors by co-organizing yoga hikes in the Colorado area.
2) Use Self-Talk to Overcome Fear.
Last summer, our last yoga hike was completely sold-out. Lila, a virgin hiker, signed up for an advanced hike, and it was truly devastating for her. However, after practicing yoga, Lila’s fear ceased somewhat. Lila and I talked about how her feet were touching the ground, the smell of the fresh air. How secure she is on the trail.
My personal favorite:
“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.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune
This is one of the best tools for overcoming any fear. Take deep, even breaths, counting as you inhale and exhale. Simple. It helps a person come back to the present as all the fear and tension are released from the body. You can practice it anytime and anywhere. It is best to practice daily. Set 5-10 minutes aside and follow this technique:
- Find a comfortable seated position (on a chair is fine, as long as your spine is straight)
- For a few seconds focusing on inhaling and exhaling
- Start ujjayi by inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of four and do this 12 times
- Return to breathing normally
- When you’re facing your fears, you can come back to the same practice and instantly get into a relaxed, alert state of mind.
However, this practice doesn’t always work when you are under the “fire.” Instead, when you can practice the Physiological Sigh with Dr. Andrew Huberman.
4) Build Trust and Confidence in Yourself.
The practice of yoga can really help. On the mat, we train our bodies through Yoga Asana. Our mind relaxes and sharpens with pranayama as we find our inner light with meditation. This translates into our daily lives, making it much easier to learn how to trust ourselves.
- Challenge yourself. Set yourself a challenge that you can realistically achieve. Start with something relatively small but which still has meaning for you. For example, you might decide you are going to write a comment on a blog that interests you. Tell someone about the challenge and accept their praise when you have achieved it. Then set yourself another slightly harder challenge (e.g., join a night class in which you’ve been interested).
- Get into the habit of thinking and saying positive things about yourself to yourself.
- Accept compliments.
- Spend time with positive and supportive people.
- Acknowledge your positive qualities and the things you are good at.
- Be assertive; don’t allow people to treat you with a lack of respect.
- Be helpful and considerate to others.
- Engage in work and hobbies that you enjoy.
5) Use Visualization Exercises.
One way to do this is picturing yourself as vividly as possible in a situation, completely calm, capable, and confident.
For example, before I went rock climbing, I saw myself on the top of the mountain.
You can also try this visualization:
- See yourself with a balloon.
- Place the balloon to your lips and begin exhaling all your fear into the balloon.
- When the balloon is full, tie it up, and release it. Watch it drift up into the sky, higher and higher and further away until it is out of sight.
- Feel the lightness of having released your fear.
- Share your techniques for overcoming fear with others.
What resonates with you? Please share your comments below.
Journaling is writing down our thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. I created a specialized life planner for you to track what’s going on in your life. Sometimes certain food can cause you nightmares, lack of sleep will make you more irritable, and so on. So, this is my number one fear trap. You can set a timer for 10 – 12 minutes, preferably in the morning. Then, open up your notebook (or get a life planner). Write about your experiences from yesterday and today. Don’t worry about grammar or sloppiness! Go wherever your mind takes you. Be curious and non-judgment. Write for yourself and never for any readers. Practice for a few days or a week. Then, reread it with curiosity and don’t be judgemental. Treat your notes as if you treat someone you love and care about. Sometimes, I destroy my notes (once I burned my notebook), and other times I keep them. It doesn’t matter. The point is to take thoughts out of our minds and on the page. Hence, we start the process of getting out of our heads into the experience of gaining perspective.
7) Cultivating Gratitude
The sense of loss is one of the leading causes of fear. Focusing on your blessings instead of what I lost helps me overcome fear. We have a “gratitude” box in the life planner where you can write at least five things I am grateful for daily. This exercise requires feeling. So, close your eyes and feel gratitude.
If nothing comes to mind, here is your cheat sheet:
- the roof over my head
- clean water
- one true friend
- freedom of choice
- the ability to stand, walk, breathe
- being alive
- take some time to find your blessings; they are all around you!
8) Reading and Listening to Fiction Books
We can’t hide from our problems, especially when it comes to fear. However, taking a break from our heads will do us great good. We can escape our own drama into someone else’s life when we read. Getting lost in a story is doing just that. We lose ourselves, our troubles, and our anxieties. It can only be an hour or so. But that hour is all we might need. Reading lowers our heart rate and eases muscle tension quickly. The best part? It doesn’t matter what we read. For me, it is science-fiction. Reading (just like writing) is my go activity to help me cope with anxiety. Douglas Adams told me fantastic stories about life, the universe, death, and interstellar travel. He took me out of my gloom during my knee injury. I lived in the commonwealth with Peter F. Hamilton when my father died. Reading is therapeutic. And it heals.
So if thrillers are your thing, you can enjoy the story and relax at the same time!
9) Incorporate Movement
My daily yoga practice obviously includes movement. But, I wanted to emphasize the importance of movement in overcoming fear. Nothing makes me feel better after pumping some iron, hiking, yoga practice, and meditation. However, I don’t always feel up to a hard workout. Instead, I can do something gentle and still get the benefits. Gentle yoga, swimming laps, cleaning the house, or walking in the pool are great options. It would help if you found the right exercise for you. Get a 3-day reboot program to kick-start your practice!
10) Understand the Issue
“A problem well put is half solved.”
Nothing gets me quicker out of my misery than an action plan. But, the first part of any problem is to formulate it. So, I will show you how I approach problem resolution most logically; you can plug in whatever you are dealing with and see that it works like magic!
- Formulate the problem: I tore a ligament in my knee [ACL].
- Is it a real issue? << If Not EXIT Else continue>>
- How to fix the ACL [create a Google folder, medical research, alternative treatments, medical records, Facebook recommendations, etc., all in one folder].
- Find specialists I trust who overcome or can help with this issue.
- Timeline for fixing the issue.
This stage takes a few days to start with. I became more familiar with the terminology by collecting the data and analyzing the problem. It helps me to understand the issue. So, once I am ready to talk to a specialist if I can’t fix it myself (like I needed a doctor to fix my ACL), I know exactly what to expect – writing down the questions, costs, pros, and cons. I try not to get stuck here. Sometimes I have paralysis through analysis.
- What are you anxious about? Formulate your issue and see if you can express your problem.
11) Create Action Plan
Now, I have a clear understanding of the problem and am ready to take action.
- Do I have a skill set to resolve the issue myself? <<If NO continue>>
- Who is the best specialist in the field?
- How much would it cost?
- How long would it take?
- Reaching out to people, reading reviews, scheduling appointments.
- Asking questions and comparing them to what I know.
12) Do Yoga to find Your Inner Warrior!
Mountain pose (Tadasana): Close your eyes and imagine you’re a mountain. Say three times load and once silently, “I am steady.” Feel the stability of the mountain.
- Warrior pose (Virabhadrasana I): Find your inner warrior. Repeat “I am strong.” Feel the strength.
- What if you are not into yoga? About 13 years ago, my partner and I went hiking in the Grand Canyon. I had just started exploring yoga but was not really into it. Instead, I remember constantly reciting the “Survival of the fittest. Only the strong survive” tune in my head. It worked!
- The bottom line? Find an affirmation that works for you and use it.
So, here you have it, my friends. Please share what resonates with you?