5 Ways to Overcome Your Fears
Want to expand your horizons, be a braver person and enjoy life to the fullest?
The secret isn’t fearlessness but admitting what scares you. Then use that knowledge to push yourself further than you ever thought possible. Go on. Take a leap. When you’re in a panic, pick one of these tricks to tamp it down.
Tell Yourself a Story
If something frightens you, try talking about it unemotionally, as if you were describing an ordinary photo: “The plane is taking off. The girl’s seat belt is fastened. She’s holding a book.” In a study from Columbia University, when people were asked to view frightening images, then talk about the pictures as detached observers (as if they were narrating a story), activity in the amygdala—a brain region where you register fear—quieted, while areas linked to self-control sparked up. Breathe From Your Belly It’s called diaphragmatic breathing. It’s easy, and it works: Inhale slowly from your lower belly to a count of four, hold for four counts, then slowly exhale to a count of four. Keep going for several minutes. “This exercise takes you out of your head and into your body, distracting you from your thoughts and directing your attention to the now,” says Brian Jacobson, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. “Plus, blood will flow to your muscles, fueling them for what’s ahead.”
Breathe From Your Belly
It’s called diaphragmatic breathing. It’s easy, and it works: Inhale slowly from your lower belly to a count of four, hold for four counts, then slowly exhale to a count of four. Keep going for several minutes. “This exercise takes you out of your head and into your body, distracting you from your thoughts and directing your attention to the now,” says Brian Jacobson, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. “Plus, blood will flow to your muscles, fueling them for what’s ahead.”
Clench and Release
Downshift from stressed to serene by practicing progressive muscle relaxation—tensing and releasing each muscle group. Start with your feet and gradually move up your body, finishing with your eyes. “You’ll loosen up your muscles, which will also ease your mind,” Jacobson says. And you might find that what once seemed like a major crisis is actually a pretty minor bump.
Admit Your Fear Out Loud
Simply voicing how scared you are taps into the more rational, less emotional part of your brain, a study from the University of California in Los Angeles notes. When volunteers viewed gory images, brain scans showed increased activity in the amygdala. But when subjects described their feelings about the images out loud (e.g., “Seeing the car crash victims is very upsetting”), activity in the logical parts of their brain increased and they felt calmer.
Tweak Your P.O.V. and Your Vocabulary
If you can reframe whatever it is that unnerves you and think of it as an exciting challenge rather than something you absolutely dread, you’ll feel more confident and better able to cope. A first date could be an opportunity for love. A 5K is a chance to show off how hard you’ve trained (and enjoy a celebratory beer afterward—hey, whatever works!).
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