I’ve written some about the things that I’ve done to overcome fear, but there are many more things that I’ve done to make fear worse. I find that sometimes we can learn what to do by acknowledging what doesn’t work.
So here are just five of the things I’ve done over the years that made my fear worse. Maybe you can learn as I did through my trial and error.
1. Not getting to the bottom of why I was afraid
I spent a lot of time just being afraid and not taking a closer look at why I was afraid. This avoidance caused the fear to grow. It’s like a child being afraid to look under the bed because she fears a monster is there. The only solution is to pull up the comforter and take a peek. The longer she waits, the bigger the image and fear of the monster becomes.
You can’t fix something if you don’t know how it’s broken. I once was afraid to repair an estranged relationship. I spent many days wanting to make amends, but feeling too afraid. But I couldn’t move forward until I asked myself what exactly I was afraid of. Was I afraid of being rejected? Was I afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle the emotions that came with reconciling? Getting clear on why I was afraid helped me to prepare (as best as possible) for what I was about to do.
2. Runaway rumination
If I had a dollar for every minute I’ve spent overthinking I would be a bajillionaire. Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema says it best in her book, Women Who Think Too Much:
I used to think that my overthinking helped me; it made me more knowledgeable about what I was going through, what I feared. Even when I was clearly getting deeper and deeper into sadness, I still thought I could think my way out.
When you’re afraid of something, it helps to think about what you’re feeling, think about the situation, and think about what steps you can take. There is a point though when thinking starts to provide less and less rewards until it then becomes detrimental to your situation and mental health. It can also stop you from taking any action which is the key to moving through fear.
The trick is to learn how to stop yourself when you get into an overthinking rut. You do this by observing yourself in the moment. At first you’ll stop yourself after a long time of overthinking, but the more you practice the faster and sooner you will catch yourself and be able to redirect your energy.
3. Believing my thoughts
Closely related to runaway thoughts is believing every single thought that you have about fear. When I was afraid to do something, my tendency was to think about the worse case scenarios and believe that I was absolutely right that those things would happen. I’ve found that more often than not I am not a fortune teller (which is probably pretty obvious).
Believing every single thought I have about what I fear and my ability (or lack thereof) to handle it just keeps me from even trying. And when I think about the times that I actually pushed through my fears to achieve something, it was because I ignored those thoughts that said “You can’t do it. It’s too scary.” and just took steps forward.
4. Isolating myself
Being an introvert, I relish my alone time, but too much of it, especially when I’m struggling with fear, is not a good thing. When afraid, it’s important to be reminded that you’re not alone. This means talking to a compassionate person, participating in a helpful group or at the very least reaching out to someone online or by phone.
Sometimes I would feel some shame and embarrassment about being afraid so I would keep it to myself and feel horrible, like I was lacking as a person. It wasn’t until I began sharing my fears with family, friends, a therapist that I realized how common my feelings were and that I didn’t have to keep it all to myself. And most of the time, the simple act of sharing made the fear subside.
5. Taking myself and the situation too seriously
If I’m honest with myself, most of the things I fear doing are not life or death, but treating them like they are just makes me miserable and the fear worse. I’ve found that practicing letting go and just looking at life for what it really is made some of the fears seem silly.
Yes, fear feels real and threatening in the moment, but lightening things up and asking “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” And realizing that the world will very likely not stop turning if my worst fears are realized helps me look at the bigger picture and take steps outside of my comfort zone.
So those are the five things I’ve done over the years that made my fear worse. What do you think? What things have you done in your life to make your fear worse and how have you turned it around?
If you liked this reflection, you might also like:
Afraid you’re not doing enough? Just observe and write.
Can you Be Grateful for Fear? Here Are 7 Reasons Why I Am.