According to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. What is fear anyway. According to the dictionary fear is (1) an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. Did you know that we are born without fear. Fear develops as we “learn” based on the responses of those around us. “Don’t touch a hot stove.” “Look both ways before crossing the street.” “Wear your seatbelt.” As children we were taught these safety rules and many more to avoid getting hurt. There is a major difference between the examples listed and genuine fear. Nobody fears crossing the street, or is afraid of a hot stove. Yes, we want to avoid getting hit by a moving vehicle, or burned by touching a hot stove, but we don’t have “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger” when we are at a crosswalk or near a stove. It’s when we are put into situations based on our circumstances that most of us first become aware of a fear or phobia that causes personal angst. How to deal with that becomes a challenge in itself.
For example, many people are terrified by public speaking. In fact in many surveys based on what people are most afraid of, public speaking rates in the top five. When I was in college I took a course in public speaking, not because I liked it, but because I was TERRIFIED of speaking in front of a group. I wanted so badly to “conquer” this fear and thought the only way to get over it was to get practice doing it. During the course of the semester we had to give ten presentations. The objective for our first presentation was teaching our peers “how to” do something. I decided to keep it simple, and do a show and tell on how to create a cover for a textbook. As I stood in front of my peers I took a deep breath, and got the first, shaky (as far as I was concerned) sentence out. I continued in that manner, and managed to get through my first college speech. Although my anxiety level was not quite as high at the end, it never fully went away. It didn’t really matter though because I had finished my first speech and I knew I was on my way to at least learning how to come to terms with my fear. By the time I gave my tenth speech I had developed confidence in my ability to present, and although I still get nervous I am no longer terrified!
Here is what I learned about fear. (1) Confront it head on. You are never going to get over a fear if you don’t deal with it directly. Yes, it’s scary, and terrifying, but it will gradually dissipate when you take action and “practice” on a regular basis. There is a caveat to this though. Not everything we fear needs to be conquered. How do you know if you should do something about it? Is your fear preventing you from achieving a goal or being happy? If so, then please consider confronting your fear. The first step might just be telling someone how you feel about it. Oftentimes people think they are all alone in how they feel, and they don’t realize that a helping hand is right around the corner. Everyone is fearful of something. Acknowledging your fear alleviates a degree of tension, making it a bit easier to resolve. Acknowledging your fear is in many ways the most courageous step, and having someone else you TRUST to confide in gives you a shoulder to lean on. (2) Accept how your fear of something makes you feel. In other words, confront your fear, but don’t fight it! I didn’t think badly of myself because I was fearful of public speaking. In fact, I felt proud that I was working on this fear by being proactive and taking action. So often, people say things about themselves, that they would never even consider saying to another person. Be mindful of your internal dialogue. If you wouldn’t say it to another person, don’t say it or think it about yourself. Be kind to yourself. Last, but not least (3) Don’t give up! Learning how to do something we look forward to, like cooking or fishing requires practice, but there is a unique element involved when learning a skill and fear is a part of the equation. The learning curve is usually longer. As your fear gradually dissolves, your confidence will increase. Don’t worry if you’re not “successful” every time because you are, whether you realize it or not. Plateaus and setbacks are all part of the “learning process.” The fact that you’re getting up, even when you fall down means you have perseverance, courage and it’s a job well done!