Facing your fears entails gradually and repeatedly approaching situations that you tend to avoid because of anxiety or other discomfort. Over time, you will likely feel less uncomfortable in these situations. Even when you don’t, the discomfort will have less impact on you.
- We have a natural tendency to avoid situations that make us fearful, anxious, or stressed.
- Avoidance can take many forms: procrastinating, declining social invitations, avoiding public speaking, and so on. Almost any action can be avoidance if it prevents us from feeling uncomfortable at the expense of doing important things.
- The more we avoid, the more our discomfort grows. We never get the opportunity to test out our fears and practice coping with them.
- Facing your fears will teach you that you can cope with the situations you’ve been avoiding, which in turn will build your confidence.
How to face your fears
- Make a list of situations, places, and objects that you fear.
- Example: If you fear dogs, the list might include looking at pictures of dogs, standing across the park from a dog on a leash, being in the same room as a dog, standing a few feet from a dog, or petting a dog.
- Build a fear ladder. For each item you list, rate your fear from 0 (no fear) to 100 (extreme fear). Then arrange the list from least fearful to most fearful.
- Face your fears. Start with the situation that causes you the least anxiety and repeatedly approach and engage in the activity until your anxiety decreases by 50% or more. If your anxiety doesn’t decrease, stay with the situation until you’re 50% less confident that something bad will occur.
- Practice approaching the feared situation on a regular basis. Once you’re able to enter the situation without much difficulty, move onto the next item on your fear ladder.
- Reward yourself. Don’t forget to reward yourself. Facing your fear is hard work!
Things to know:
- Reductions in anxiety. Most people feel significantly less anxious when they repeatedly face their fears. But that doesn’t always happen. You might still feel anxious sometimes in these situations. What’s important is engaging in them in the service of your life.
- Willingness to have anxiety. Facing your fears doesn’t work very well if you simply grit your teeth through the experience. It helps to be willing to allow whatever discomfort you have at the same time. Remind yourself that anxiety and fear can’t hurt you, even though they’re uncomfortable.
- Be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself as you face your fears is as important as willingness to feel discomfort. Gentle encouragement usually works better than self-criticism.