“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light.” ~Adapted from Plato
I was digging in my half-empty refrigerator one day, searching for leftovers, when my phone rang. I glared at it wondering who the hell had the nerve to interrupt my hunt for sustenance.
I grabbed the phone with pure agitation and put it to my ear. On the other end of the line I heard a faint voice mutter the three most unforgettable words I had ever heard: “Dad is gone.”
The faint voice belonged to my stepmom Rose. She told me that dad was headed for surgery that morning when he had a massive heart attack. She said that he sprang up in bed and reached out to her with his eyes stretched open in terror. And that was it. He was gone.
As an anxious twenty-two-year-old, suffering wasn’t new to me, but this was different. It wasn’t long after my dad died that I spiraled into daily panic attacks and became a whimpering victim of anxiety.
We all encounter fear sometimes—it’s normal. But I did it all wrong. I let it control my life. After my dad passed away, my days were usually filled with uncertainty, self-doubt, and misery.
I later wondered if the same fate awaited me, to the point where I developed all kinds of phobias: health phobia, social phobia, and a crushing fear of death. I was truly lost.
Fear became my new normal. I allowed my negative thoughts to shape my reality. I stopped believing in myself, in other people, in the future; all of it seemed meaningless.
Over the years I struggled to tame my fears, and if I’m being totally honest, on some days I still struggle. The good news is that I don’t stay stuck like I used to.
I’ve learned to understand my fears for what they really are, rather than what I imagine them to be. And I live with less fear every day because of seven rock solid tips that I learned after losing my dad.
When we are fearful, we get tense without even knowing it. Learning how to let go of tension was a key factor in my recovery from fear and anxiety.
I learned progressive muscle relaxation exercises and practiced daily. I learned that making peace with your body is a great way to make peace with your mind.
2. Find your inner observer.
I had no idea that I had one, but there is a part of the mind that is able to observe thoughts without judgment or expectation. Getting in touch with your inner observer weakens the power of fear and reduces “what if” thinking.
Meditation is hands down one of the best ways to train yourself to identify and strengthen this part of your mind.
Words are powerful. The ones you use to describe life and all its challenges will not change what happens to you, but it can change how you feel about it.
Instead of obsessing over my “palpitations,” I reframed this as “I’m nervous.” Reframing helped me to form positive perspectives about all kinds of stuff.
4. Be mindful.
When I was really anxious I lived in the past or the future. I totally forgot about living my life in the present. Take the time to enjoy today.
Fear has a way of isolating us from ourselves and others. But it’s important to remember that connecting with other people is a vital part of a healthy life. Reach out!
6. Challenge your fears.
Do you want to know how absurd fear can be? I used to fear soft drinks! Well, actually, I was afraid of caffeine, but seriously. Challenging your fears builds self-confidence and over time ensures that you get to live the full version of your life.
7. Be kind to yourself.
There is a 100 percent chance that things won’t always go your way, including being afraid when you don’t want to be. Don’t punish yourself for being “stupid” or “weak,” though. It’s okay to be afraid sometimes. The question is: What are you going to do when fear comes to your doorstep?
When I’d get anxious, it was because I didn’t believe that I had what I needed to be okay. But the truth is that we all do—somehow, someway, we always do.
And therein lies the “secret” to living with less fear: the realization that you do have the means to weather any storm. That you are stronger than you give yourself credit for.
Peaceful man image via Shutterstock