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Last Updated on November 25, 2019

How to Fight Your Irrational Fears And Stay Strong

How to Fight Your Irrational Fears And Stay Strong

She could hear her beautiful baby crying but was frozen in the doorway unable to move. The crying got worse and she knew that unless she comforted the infant soon the baby would be inconsolable, and yet her feet wouldn’t move. She didn’t look at the cot but the floor in front, where the venomous hairy monster sat before her…. .okay it was a UK spider so not likely to kill her at all, and yet still her body was frozen as the tears fell down her face. “What a useless mother you are” she berated herself.

That awful mother was me 14 years ago. My fear of spiders had not been controlled for years and I was at the stage where I wouldn’t open a newspaper until my husband had read it and removed the images of spiders. I hated houses that had wooden floors or skirting boards because every knot in the wood could be a spider about to crawl across me.

At the height of my fear, I tried to get out of a moving car. Clearly this harmless 8-legged creature had massive levels of power over me but now that fear is gone, I’m never going to love spiders but I’m not going to leave the room because of one and I can read the word without freaking out and sobbing.

If you think that fear is irrational, what about the fear of going to airports? Or the fear of not asking for help?

Today I want to look at how our irrational fears impact on us, how they can destroy (and I don’t use that word lightly) our success. They can damage our health and even stop us from living our lives. And then I’ll share the benefits of fighting that fear and most importantly how you can fight your fears too.

How Irrational Fears Impact Your Life

The thing about irrational fears is that we are not keen to look at them. It makes us feel inadequate, weak and daft because we can’t do things that it seems everyone else can. That gives the fear power.

Fear loves negative emotions and saps up yours making your fear bigger and uglier and even more powerful. Not ideal to say the least. Fears can cause us to:

  • Avoid situations where that fear may have to be faced. Dodging parties, new jobs, new experiences where we aren’t sure we will be able to protect ourselves.
  • Stop us from sleeping for fear the thing we fear will “get us in the night.” For me this was massive, and I stopped sleeping which had massive implications when my job was to look after a toddler and a baby. I felt half dead most of the time!
  • Feel ill with the stress. Stress can be the cause of wrong decisions. Drinking alcohol when we shouldn’t, eating chocolate because it makes us feel better, the list of excuses is long that we hold on to so that we can avoid the cause of our stress.
  • Cause more distress as our minds overload us with negative thoughts of inadequacy. This can damage our confidence. Having coached thousands, I know that a lack of confidence is usually the underlining impactor on most people’s success across all areas of their lives.
  • Risk looking aloof or arrogant because we won’t participate like other people. Our fears can even isolate us in our personal and professional lives too.
  • Feel debilitated. Needless to say, these fears may look irrational and shouldn’t exist to the outside world but to the sufferer they are debilitating. Even impacting on their earning potential, love life, hobbies, travels and personal and professional success.

Why Bother to Fight the Fear

Couldn’t you just ensure you live your life in way that you don’t have to deal with your fear?

I had a client that was so scared of flying that they couldn’t even take their partner to the airport, another who had avoided public speaking for over 20 years and yet now at the height of their profession they had no choice, what were they going to do? Quit? There was another who could never ask for help and another who feared people finding out who they really were.

All these fears and many more can be fixed but only if we can appreciate the benefits of fighting the fear.

Let’s look at the benefits of fighting your fears:

If you’re going to change the way you do something, something that has impacted on your life, thoughts and actions for years, it can be hard to believe change is possible.

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The first thing you must do is give yourself a big enough reason why. Go back through your life and remember all the occasions that this fear was there.

I can still see the spider trapped in my hair because it had obviously been on my hairdryer. I also remember that I probably looked ludicrous in the South of France in my underwear running down the lane screaming and flinging my hair everywhere. The poor spider had not only been flung a long way from my head but was probably destroyed in the flight.

Remember the feelings, the actions, the negative feelings you felt afterwards, for me it meant that every time I picked up a hairdryer I could see a spider crawling towards my ear in my hair. Guess how helpful that was for reinforcing my reactions and irrational fear?

Really experience the fear. Make it so painful that you probably notice your heart racing, your shoulders drawing up and your breath changing. That fear is causing physical change in your body, doesn’t feel good does it?

When the irrational fear is challenged and destroyed, it can’t have power over you. So new opportunities can come your way and instead of fearing them and what people will think of you for your choices, you can be open to;

  • New hobbies
  • New travels
  • New opportunities
  • More success
  • Financially more secure
  • Happier
  • Healthier
  • Confident

The list is long so what can you do to get rid of your fears?

How to Fight Your Irrational Fears

In my book Fight the Fear: How to Beat Your Negative Mindset and Win in Life, I cover 12 of the biggest fears that I see impact on success and happiness. Not all of these are obvious but they all have far reaching impacts on our lives.

Here are some of those ideas to help you fight your fear and get more of what you want out of life:

Why Did This Happen?

For some people they really need to know why the fear started, for others all they want is to get rid of it. If you need to understand yours then don’t skip this tip. Learn how your fears are made and appreciate where yours came from. If you don’t care how it arrived, you can jump to top tip 2.

I’ve seen some clients who are not prepared to look at how to get rid of the fear until they’ve understood how it got here in the first place. It’s not my place to tell them that is right or wrong, just to help them find the right steps to lead them to a happy path.

When a fear first starts, we don’t acknowledge a fear has entered our lives. It is only after a few occasions that we begin to notice that there’s a strong negative emotion connected to this “thing”. That’s how fear is allowed to grow because as humans we have in-built responses that have kept us safe for our entire existence. This means we are meant to perceive fear and either run or fight, either way our bodies jump into action creating physical responses to the perceived threat.

Look for when you first noticed the fast heart beat, the shallow breathing, the shaking hands, the redness. You have created an automatic way of dealing with this fear. It could be that it felt sensible to fear this because you had an unhappy outcome, although it is usually the case that your head has the facts and your heart is not prepared to hear them as it creates a version of the event that is far scarier than it actually was.

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Learning how to remove the emotions and feelings will help you to change your body’s response. The first time I fixed someone’s fear of public speaking, they told me that it physically closed their throat, I worried that was it possible with words to change our physicality? The answer was yes! With the tools and techniques I share below.

The Tool Kit

From the many people that have contacted me after reading Fight the Fear to my clients, I know for even myself creating a tool kit is a must. This is not a bag that you physically must haul everywhere. This is about learning tools that really resonate with you so that when you can feel the fear start to impact on you, you’ve got your kit ready to take it on.

I don’t have the space in one article to share all of those tools so let’s visit a few:

1. Why I’m Awesome?

Creating a 2-page handwritten document of why you are awesome can help. This document will be packed with achievements, successes, overcoming adversity and all of those will be full of positive emotions, actions and feelings. It is not easy to write, and I get many messages telling me so however it is a powerful reminder that you can stand up and accomplish.

2. Draw out Your Emotions

Earlier we looked at how irrational fears can damage every aspect of our lives. If you were to follow the negative spiral down you can follow the positive spiral up again.

I draw these individually for clients and with each action, thought or feeling we put an arrow between them. Each arrow is an opportunity to do something different. If we know that irrational fear is an automatic thought process, then we can start to see that we need to think, do or feel something different. Top tip 3 will help with that.

3. Acknowledge That You Need to Change

It’s not easy to change, and that is a belief that many hold. Top tip 4 could assist further, however for this tip, remember that when you want to do, think or feel differently, you’ve already achieved the first step and that is recognizing something must change (you don’t need to know what). But if you aren’t sure yet if there’s really something different you want to do, this story about Nancy may help you to figure it out.

Then it’s about acknowledging it. That means not only accepting it but feeling that it is yours to take on and change.

Then for 2 weeks, decide that you won’t allow the thought to be in your head. There are usually some negative thoughts allowed to fester in your head. At this stage, just say “No I’d like you to stop.” After 2 weeks choose a new thought that you would prefer to hear in your head, maybe “I can cope with situations that scare me” or “I am stronger than I know”.

There will be times when you fail. Don’t berate yourself because that is another negative thought you are allowing your head to process. Just start again and at times like that have a read of your “Why I’m awesome list”.

4. Choose Your Words Carefully

I’ve heard many clients tell me that “It’s going to be hard to change” “I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t petrified” or “This is a lot to ask”. Any thought that gives power to your fear takes away power from you to fight it. Therefore, choose how you word your goal to overcome your fear carefully.

Think thoughts like “I remember when I achieved xxxx and that reminds me I’m far tougher and more capable than I give myself credit for”. (Take the xxx from your why I’m awesome document.)

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5. Believe That You Have the Control Power

The only person that can control what we think and feel is us. I know it can feel like other people are impacting on us, however they can only do that if we give them permission to do so.

If you really think about that for a moment, can you see that you have the right to think and feel anything you want right now? I’m certain you wouldn’t choose pain, fear or anxiety. So, what would you choose to think about your fear?

6. Put up Physical Reminders

Working one to one, I can find the fear, work through it and create a tool kit of thoughts, feelings and actions that will help them fight that fear and get rid of it. For some, they don’t need physical things to help them; others do.

For example, the CEO who was petrified of public speaking but could handle a conference call with 300 without a second thought, imagined the microphone was a phone when they spoke in front of 400 people to help reinforce the positive thoughts and ideas we’d created.

Or the client that always worried that they were an imposter and “someone else can do this better” pinned on their office wall a tag cloud of all the words that made up their “Why I’m awesome document”.

So they had a daily reminder. They were the right one for the job and they could do it. These daily reminders all come down to one key point — help you to Hack the Habit Loop.

What would be your visual clues to remind you that you can overcome this?

7. Physical Supports

Music, environment and even smells can impact on us. Know the music that makes you feel alive and ready for anything. Try aromatherapy oils to feel positive and energised. Even choose your work environment or clothing to empower you.

Changing these things is physical and giving yourself physical ideas to action can help power up your emotional state too.

8. Don’t Go It Alone

The fear to ask for help is very real (and has a whole chapter in my book) so I know people really struggle with this. The fact is we all need people. We are not insular by design and as such it can be tough to admit that you have a fear impacting on you.

However, by sharing your fear with a trusted friend, colleague or loved one can mean that when you are feeling the fear. you can talk to someone. It could be that you share with them the contents of your tool kit and ask their permission to be added to it. That way they know what works for you and how to best support you.

It’s not a sign of weakness to tell people about your fear. It takes massive levels of strength to say, “I have this fear, and I want to get rid of it.”

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9. Get Physical

One of the reasons that a fear can escalate is because we have come to accept that response. Our body reacted in a certain way, once repeated the behaviour and it became a formed habit that was accepted.

Challenging a fear can be done using our body too when we appreciate that fear is actually a reaction inside our bodies. We don’t need to understand where in our brains or what chemicals are racing through us to use our physicality to help us challenge our fears.

When I was writing my book, the Cuddy Superhero pose[1] was proved and disproved by various researchers around the world 3 times. Whether it’s real or not, the fact is the way we stand, the way we breathe and even the speed at which we speak can impact on us as well as those around us.

If you have a fear of public speaking or a fear of people thinking you are stupid or a fear of what people are thinking you can look at how you speak, stand and move. If you compare these with people you deem confident and happy in these situations, how do you look? What can you learn?

The research around placebo’s reinforces us that if it feels like it is working, then keep doing it! What could you use to help reinforce your power and fearlessness?

Final Thoughts

A little fear can be good. As someone famous once says:

“It is not fear, it is performance energy.”

Despite having an absolute hatred of public speaking 10 years ago, I now love an audience and yet I have a healthy level of fear. That level of fear says “Are you well prepared?” “Do you know your audience?” “Have you rested your voice?” “You really want to deliver to this audience what they need” And those thoughts are sensible.

And just remember, it’s never ever too late to face your fear and do what you desire most! It’s even possible to start over your life no matter what stage of life you’re at. Here’s the proof: How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

So as you reduce your fear, be aware of a good level of fear.

More About Fighting Fears

Featured photo credit: Isaiah Rustad via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mandie Holgate

Coach, International BEST Selling Author, Speaker & Blogger helping thousands around the world.

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

Why Am I So Sad? 9 Possible Causes You Shouldn’t Ignore

Why Am I So Sad? 9 Possible Causes You Shouldn’t Ignore

Expressing emotions is difficult as it’s not always encouraged in society. People rely on comfort zones and a secure mask to get them through the day. You may feel emotions stirring and wonder, “Why am I so sad?” and not know where to begin in how to answer that.

In a way, being sensitive can be looked down upon. We ignore warning signs of sadness, depression and other forms of suffering because having feelings is something we cannot be open about in society. Stigma stifles us from speaking up.

It shouldn’t be something we are afraid of. With the release or catharsis of emotion, we find resilience and who we want to be. Sadness is one emotion of many. But it’s often the one most ignored. We don’t want to appear weak to others, or even to ourselves.

Ignoring sadness leads to repression. It may also lead to depression.

There is a difference between sadness and depression. Sadness you feel, depression may lead into numbness, intense sadness or a heaviness that cannot be easily coped with. You may go through all your coping skills for sadness, and it may still be there if it’s depression.

Typically, sadness is fleeting and brought on by something; it comes and goes, whereas depression holds us down for long periods of time maybe lasting weeks or so. It’s where we are in a hole we feel we cannot climb out of by ourselves, but we are even more afraid to ask for help.

When you are feeling sad, you are most likely feeling alone. You are most likely feeling helpless. You feel like it’s the end of the world or that you can’t go on. It’s a grief of something. But part of depression is feeling this way almost nonstop at a depth that can overrule your behavior.

When you feel sad, you may be at a juncture in life of confusion. Where do I go from here? What next? Or even, what is worth holding onto?

Do you find yourself hiding away from the world in shame or confusion?

Do you find yourself feeling hollow or empty, even though more tears may come up?

Do you find yourself feeling lost?

These are the key components to both sadness and depression. Sadness may hold on but it doesn’t linger. Depression doesn’t let go.

Seek a professional to help assist with either, but for now, reasoning through the causes may help to identify a way for a solutions.

Here’re 9 possible causes of you sadness that you shouldn’t ignore:

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1. Lack of Support System

We need people to know who we really are. We need moments of vulnerability or opening up to one another to feel safe and secure. When we can tell others what we are going through, we feel a sense of clarity and release.

We feel obligated to be our own heroes. We feel like we need to hold on rather than let go and let others in. When this happens, sadness increases, and we are no longer engaged with those we love.

People overwhelm us with their ability to smile, carry on and even be functional. But that’s not always their truth either. When sadness hits, we have to tell someone and build a support system. We may find we have some thing about ourselves in common with others.

Find people you trust: professionals, friends and family that you can turn to when going through a hard time. Let them in. You are not alone in this. You just need to allow others to see your weaknesses, which aren’t even true weaknesses. Feeling sad is not a weakness. Holding back in an effort to appear strong is, however, a weakness. When people know what you’re going through, they can better assist you.

“No man is an island.” — John Donnes

2. Inability to Communicate Needs

When we are the most sad, we have trouble communicating our needs to others. But sadness doesn’t form overnight. Oftentimes, the repression goes back longer and deeper. We expect others to read our minds. We don’t give them a chance to get to know the real us because we’re so afraid of rejection.

Your needs are more than food, shelter and clothing, etc. They include understanding, compassion, reassurance, empowerment and hope. When you let yourself become vulnerable, people can offer you these things. It starts with communicating your needs.

Maybe you were passed up in a promotion, rejected in a love affair, hurt over past childhood abuse, neglected in life because of your inability to speak up. All these things do not define us. What defines us is what we do with them, the lessons learned. We have to let people in so that we can decide what to do with them.

To communicate your needs, write a list of your values, goals, what you’re grateful for and what you want others to help you with in regards to these areas. Then, make a plan to ask for help. Let others see this list. Let them choose how they can help you.

3. Identity Loss

Our identities become wrapped up in what we want people to think about us. Instead of hiding in the same stigma of sadness, open up to the world to share what you are going through.

When you are wearing a mask, you cannot be authentic. And when you are not being authentic, you are not getting your needs in life met. You are not building a true foundation for success. You cannot be happy. You cannot learn others’ needs or identities. You cannot offer a solid answer to their own vulnerabilities. Instead, you freeze. You become numb to others’ suffering and isolated in your own.

That mask needs to come off. Otherwise, you’re just waiting for more sadness to consume you when isolated and alone. That mask is designed to distract others from your pain, but it doesn’t work in the long term. Eventually, that mask will break.

If you keep it on, you will look towards that mask as who you really are. You will pretend and lose sight of your dreams and goals. Instead of letting that happen, take the mask off.

The freedom that comes in being yourself is worth it. The sadness will shrink at the sight of who you really are.

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4. Hardship

Hardship does not define us. But it can take time to recover from one. Don’t speed up that process. Sadness is not an inherently wrong emotion to feel. It’s just uncomfortable. And when you go through a hardship, that sadness will be there. That sadness attaches you to what you lost that you loved. It gives meaning to it. It helps you understand yourself when you open up about your grief.

People will have solutions for everything. But the greatest answer you can give yourself is honoring that sadness and what it stands for, so that it doesn’t overwhelm and control you. You will be less afraid of the hardship’s long term effect. It will equate some closure. You will learn lessons from the hardship that you might have not learned any other way.

Hold space for the pain, for yourself to heal, and for others who might not understand right away.

Be kind to yourself. That’s the best way to handle sadness from a hardship. Know that it’s natural to be there, but it won’t be so pushy forever. That’s where your own abilities come into play.

You can keep going knowing that you will honor that notion that it carries the weight of what you once wanted. And maybe as you grow, you will change in what you want. But you will never change in what you need. And that’s healing, growth, love and honoring your journey that you got this far and are able to do much more than anyone knows. Keep going!

5. Negative Messages or Self Talk About Yourself

You are worth everything. Your sadness does not speak to what you are worth. It only tells you the story you tell yourself. And when you change that story, you can breathe. You start to see the positives in your day. You start to realize you deserve to be happy. You even let yourself smile maybe. You will not go down that easy. You will rise again.

In The Toxic Effects of Negative Self Talk on Very Well Mind [1], Elizabeth Scott, MS said:

“Studies have linked negative self-talk with higher levels of stress and lower levels of self-esteem.”

Both stress and lower self-esteem bring on the sadness in which we feel we are losing our sanity. But we can pick ourselves up again with positive self talk.

Positive self talk is sending message of love and hope to yourself when the world fails to do so for you. It’s taking control. You may not be able to take control of every aspect of every circumstance, but you can control yourself. That means you have something to give. You can show up, when you are struggling, and you can know you are safe because you can control the messages you are telling yourself.

Take control, today and everyday, and watch the sadness fade. Start with “I am worth it.”

6. Disempowerment

Maybe you’re not going through a hardship. Yet, you are not empowered. Maybe your circumstances are just not giving you what you want. You are having unfulfilling experiences. Your relationships are not healthy, your school or work simply drains you, you have no support system, you have an identity crisis, a lack of focus or meaning. Or all of the above.

In all of these examples, you feel a lack of power over your life.

Maybe you didn’t notice it at first, but the sadness creeped slowly up on you. Maybe you need it though as a wake up call. This isn’t the life you deserve. Maybe it’s time to change something.

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That’s when sadness can serve us. It can give us hope. That we can feel enough to know something isn’t right. You don’t need to explain it to anyone else. You just need to act on it. You’ve been white-knuckling through your problems enough. Use the sadness or when it rains to open an umbrella, and walk forward.

7. Lack of Focus, Direction or Drive

It may be a simple thing of a lack of focus, direction or drive for your reason for sadness. You may have a great life, but you don’t know which way to go next. You aren’t taking what you do have seriously. In fact, you may be taking what you have for granted.

The lack of gratitude may be the reason why you can’t see the good even though it’s there. You’re forgetting why you started. You don’t recognize yourself in the mirror because you’ve let yourself wander so far. But now, it’s time to get it all back.

Choose. Make choices. Act. It sounds simple, but it is not easy to get your drive back. You have to really want it. And that changes everything.

Your mindset is everything. If you can’t view things with a positive spin, you will have nothing to do that is meaningful or productive. If your mindset is causing you to overlook what you do have and what you can have, it’s time to change it. Just with positive self talk, getting focused is about realizing what you deserve.

“It’s during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” — Aristotle

If you want to find your drive, this article can help you: How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up

8. Oppression of Some Sort

Poverty, pain, wrong doing, injustice… Sometimes, there are things outside of our control. We may feel like there’s nothing we can do in our current circumstances to make it better. But we have to try.

You didn’t choose this, but you did decide your attitude about it.

You can either fight or stop. But stopping is not an option.

Instead of blame everything else, see what you can do to be a light here. Get yourself through it to get yourself to the other side. Don’t judge what you’ve had to do in the past to do just that. But now it is time to start over.

Forgive yourself. Let the sadness be a voice for what you’re going through. Express that. It doesn’t mean things will change right away. But you will change. That will make meaning out of your sadness. It will help you transform what you hope to change.

9. Depression

If your sadness doesn’t leave you, it may be depression.

A chemical balance may be the reason for it all. Or a sudden hardship, heartbreak, loss. There’s no one reason for someone to become depressed. It’s subjective to that person.

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Sadness enduring and growing stronger with a more hollow, empty feeling than you’ve ever had before is a sign of depression. Depression strikes when you are down. It’s like a weight on your chest. Sometimes, the sadness robs you of your sanity. You make rash decisions. You act in ways that do not appear healthy. You choose to retreat rather than open up the world. And therein lies the problem. You forget you’re human. You’re allowed to ask for help.

When the depression becomes numb, it could be a multitude of emotions lingering that the brain suppresses to help you cope. In that state, it’s time to reach out. Even if you don’t know what is causing it, it’s time to act.

If you need help, here’s a great organization to start with: National Alliance on Mental Illness describes depression as hopelessness, lack of interest in activities or even suicidal thoughts.

It’s also suggested to create a safety plan. This means you gather your supports, someone you trust, to help maybe take you to the ER if symptoms persist.

Call a suicide prevention hotline.

Note these aren’t fail-safe. It may take trying different therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Maybe even medication. Meditation never hurts. But it’s up to you to be honest about how you feel, if something is not working for you, or if a counselor is not helpful.

Get ready for it all to be a process, to take time. There’s not a quick fix for your feelings. And when sadness becomes depression, you know to take it seriously. One day, there may be a cure, but for now, you will heal your sadness and depression by identifying and causes and coming up with a plan of action no matter what.

Final Thoughts

People don’t always recognize when someone is in crisis. They don’t know your internal dialogue. They don’t hear your negative self-talk. But what they do is love you.

You are not alone in this at all. Sadness can be very telling of what a person is going through. If it becomes depression, added steps are needed to getting help.

It should be viewed as any other health crisis. But due to stigma, it is not often so that we view it that way.

You can change that — just by showing up, just by voicing your concerns, just by living for yourself, your needs, and your goals. Because when it comes to sadness or depression, we often feel silenced. No more.

Good luck.

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Featured photo credit: Casper Nichols via unsplash.com

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