When we feel confident, powerful, and healthy, we can live our best lives and be our best selves. Sadly, many of us exist in a state of anxiety and dread, especially in these difficult times. Fear prevents us from true wellness. It not only zaps our motivation but also leads to chronically high stress — and that can become a serious health issue.
So, how we can recover our confidence and stop living in fear? First, we must explore the origin of fear and understand how it affects us.
Fear is a natural emotion that everyone experiences. It's normal and nothing to be ashamed of. However, it can hold you back from your dreams and well-being... and no one wants that!
The most primal fear is designed to save our lives, giving us a jolt of adrenaline to escape a hungry tiger. But humans are complex creatures, and we have that "fight or flight" response whenever something threatens our sense of safety.
Fear often stems from worry or doubt. When we don't know how a situation will play out but perceive a negative outcome, we become fearful. Concern or guilt about something we said or did can also manifest as fear.
Fear also accompanies a lack of confidence and clarity. It's just a small step from doubting your abilities to convincing yourself you'll never succeed.
All of these situations release the stress hormone, cortisol. When we're constantly bathed in cortisol, our immunity declines and we become more susceptible to health issues. Worse, we forget what it's like to not be constantly stressed!
Reducing your overall fear is vital to your health. Now that you know all the forms fear can assume, let's explore how you can identify the sources of your fear.
What Scares You?
When you hear this question, perhaps you answer by listing your phobias. Plenty of people are scared of clowns, spiders, snakes, etc. But unless you live at the circus or the local zoo's reptile house, these phobias likely aren't the reason you're living in fear.
Our most pressing fears are often the most insidious. Fear of failure is among the most common. There are major sociocultural reasons for this: our society celebrates achievement and judges people by their success. Failing at something can feel like a devastating blow to our self-esteem. Worse, we lose our sense of safety.
"I have to pass this exam or I'll fail the class and then I won't graduate."
"I messed up at work. What if I get fired and end up losing my apartment and becoming homeless?"
Anxiety about our future can prevent us from even pursuing our goals. It's often a big risk to change careers, go to grad school, move to a new city, and so on. If we worry too much about the possible negative outcomes, we can't summon the courage to take that big step.
Fear can also emerge from past trauma. That's not a sign of weakness; like your fight-or-flight response, it's meant to protect you. Our ancestors who survived tiger attacks would experience fear when they saw another tiger — or even something that looked like a tiger.
In the modern world, we may be scarred by a painful rejection, a humiliating experience, or a risk that backfired on us. It's normal to be fearful in situations that remind you of those traumas.
How to Identify Your Fears
Spend some time evaluating your fears:
- Make a "worry list" and ask yourself what's behind those worries.
- For each worry, write down the negative outcome you fear.
- Rationalize it. Why do you fear that outcome? Is it likely to happen? Why or why not?
- Make a list of goals or tasks you've been putting off, then write down why you haven't achieved them.
- What is the core worry or threat for each of those goals or tasks? How you can overcome those fears?
Simply writing down these thoughts and feelings can help you gain clarity. Seeing it in black and white will help your brain break out of "panic mode" and approach the situation with clarity.
Make it a habit to constantly question your fear. Throughout your days, when you feel anxious, consider the root source of the feeling. Is there a solution? Is the worry or threat real or perceived? If it's real, how can you address it?
When something scares or worries you, practice shifting your perception. Rather than stressing over whether or not you'll fail the exam, focus on how you'll be able to pass it. Change your self-talk from "What if I fail?" to "How can I do my best?"
Also, avoid catastrophizing. Even if something goes wrong, it's rarely the end of the world. There are many paths to success, and often, they involve overcoming hurdles.
Finally, practice daily gratitude by writing down affirmations or journaling good things. What's going well in life? Who and what makes you happy and proud?
Un-Learn Your Socially Conditioned Fears
For many of us, the root causes of our anxiety and worry are sociocultural. We wouldn't be as frightened of failure if we didn't perceive such pressure to succeed. We wouldn't experience such performance anxiety if we weren't taught from a young age to compare ourselves to other people.
The best way to boost your confidence and overcome your fears is to un-learn these ideas:
Instead of measuring yourself by someone else's standards, celebrate what you've done well. In a situation that goes poorly, remind yourself that you did your best. Embrace accomplishment rather than perfection.
On that note, link your worth to your achievements, passions, and values, rather than arbitrary measures of success. It's okay if you didn't get straight As and graduate with honors from an Ivy League school. It's okay if you didn't win an All-Star, Oscar, Grammy, or Tony. Once we understand success as a completely unique path for everyone, it's easy to overcome the fear of "failure."
Surround yourself with positive people. That's not to say you should only be friends with delusional Pollyannas. Rather, spend time with people who lift you up and inspire you to be your best self. They're the type to provide constructive criticism and compassionate support. Avoid at all costs toxic people and "energy vampires" who kick you when you're down or constantly create negative situations.
We hope these concepts and practices help you stop living in fear and start living your best life. Don't underestimate the health toll of chronic stress and anxiety. You deserve to feel your best, both inside and out. Nourish your confidence with daily self-care and affirmations — and your body will thank you.