Conquer the Fears Holding You Back

I lived the majority of my life in fear—but it wasn’t because my parents beat me or that I lived in a dangerous neighborhood. My life of fear stemmed from the most volatile question a person could possibly live by: “What if…?”

Never did a potential threat pass by without my brain homing in on it. Even from a young age, I seemed to notice hazards everywhere, and it astounded me that most everyone else could go about their days without fretting over every move. Beyond the obvious, a constant deluge of remote possibilities, dangers that didn’t exist anywhere beyond the dark depths of my mind, further cluttered my thoughts.

I became so hyper-focused on becoming the victim, that I displayed a beacon on my forehead that drew dark spirits like moths to a flame. Bullies, sexual predators and other types of human monsters set their sites on me, and as the years passed by, my self-fulfilled prophecy left me a neurotic, terrified shell of a woman.

Turning Around the Narrative

When fear is the default, our thoughts can become conditioned to shift to the negative regardless of the event. We come to expect bad things to happen—for people to treat us poorly, for opportunities to pass us by, for the worst-case scenario to present itself—and so we live by those expectations.

Like the prey animal that sets off the predator with its fearful moves, we prime ourselves and our surroundings in a way that sets us up to fail. We carry ourselves with an aura of defeat. We dress in clothing that betrays our sense of invisibility and unimportance. We tell the world by our very posture that we expect to be swept to the wayside—and so that’s what people do with us. When we allow fear to rule our every move, it colors every other aspect of our lives, making failure all but inevitable.

Learning to Be Brave

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One of the most important skills I learned during my journey to self-discovery was how to steel myself. It didn’t come easily at first; much to the contrary, my first attempts at seizing control weren’t effective in the least bit. They were horrifying, actually.

The first step, I found, was pushing through whatever act I’d taken on no matter how bad the panic attack ended up. For me, that meant grocery shopping while sobbing hysterically. It meant feeling weak, even though I was doing something exceptionally strong. And it meant looking concerned strangers in the eyes and finding the strength to say, “I’m just having a panic attack. I’ll be fine.”

And really, that was the key: I felt sick and weak and emotionally wrecked, but all of those feelings existed solely in me. More importantly, I still had a choice as to whether they would continue serving as obstacles keeping me from living my life. So, the next time that moment of choice came, I took several deep breaths and told myself, “No matter how sick or weak or panicked I become, I can do this.”

I can do this.

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I wasted decades of precious life allowing fear to forge my world. The moment panic hit, I’d fall into avoidance—anything to keep from feeling that terrible deluge of fear and grief—but every time I gave in like that, I dug my rut a little deeper. It took facing it, and surviving, to realize how empowering it could be to simply do what I’d set out to do, no matter how much I didn’t want to do the task or how terribly my mind and body responded to it.

A strange thing began to take hold. I found I might still experience stomach upset and other somatic responses when I got stressed, but my degree of panic had slightly waned. I got to where the only outward indication that I was inwardly freaking out was a bit of crying, which could be embarrassing at times. Still, at that, I would ask myself whether getting caught crying out in public was really all that terrible. As long as I didn’t make a big fuss of it, no one else seemed to, either.

Now, after many months of practicing pushing through, I find that when that moment of panic hits, I can make a choice: I can decide I “can’t” do whatever is troubling me and let fear win, or I can take a long, deep, mindful breath or two, tell myself, “I can do this,” and then empower myself with another leap. These days, I very rarely let the fear win.

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