Living in fear is overwhelming. It makes you feel out of control and feeds your worries and anxiety. But it’s important that you know that, no matter what’s going on in your life and the world, you don’t have to live in fear.
Instead of living in fear, I want you to learn to live with fear. Because fear will always be there (sorry, it’s impossible to never have any fears or worries). Overcoming fear, worry and anxiety is about managing your fears while building self-confidence so that you can act despite these feelings.
Today you’ll learn:
- the difference between living in fear vs. living with fear,
- why thought work is key to making the transformation you want (and how it works), and
- 5 effective fear-busting exercises to help you stop living in fear and worry.
And because of the interrelationship between fear and stress (stress feeds fear, worry and anxiety), I encourage you to take this further by downloading my free resource of 8 mindset and stress management strategies for a calm mind, increased stress resilience and control over your emotions.
Table of Contents
The Difference Between Living In Fear vs. Living With Fear
What you want is to transform from living in fear to living with fear. Although the two might sound similar, they’re not.
What Living In Fear Looks and Feels Like
Do you sometimes feel paralyzed by fear? Maybe you’re contemplating making a change to your life but can’t get past all the risks you’ll be taking (and what might go wrong). And so you do nothing.
Or perhaps you’re stuck in analysis paralysis over a big decision because of your fear of making the wrong choice. Maybe you fear something beyond your control that could affect you, your business, and/or your loved ones.
As I write this article, the coronavirus is picking up steam here in the US. And the fear is palpable.
I’ve talked to several people this past week who have allowed their fears about what could happen (to them, family members, their business and the economy) to overtake their minds. They’re constantly checking the internet for updates and their anxiety levels have skyrocketed.
Living in fear overpowers you, holds you back, and steals your joy for life. Instead of doing your best and moving on, your mind races with negative thoughts and worries (that play continuously like a broken record in your head).
Why Living With Fear Is the Solution
Living with fear is about not letting your fears take you over. Although they still exist, they don’t overpower or paralyze you from taking action.
The truth is that you can’t live in absence of all fear. Although some fears aren’t rational, many are. And some fear is healthy (and helps you to make better decisions).
When you live with fear, you can:
- Differentiate the irrational fears from the rational ones,
- Detach yourself from emotions and act with intention despite your fears, and
- Have a healthy relationship with your fears.
It’s not that you won’t have any fears, just that you won’t be held back by them.
Case Study On The Difference Between Living In Fear and Living With Fear
I had triple negative breast cancer, which is an aggressive form of breast cancer that has a higher mortality and recurrence rate. Recurrence usually means metastatic cancer (and death). Because of that, I have fears about my cancer coming back.
After my treatment ended, I often searched for ways to ensure that I wouldn’t experience a recurrence. One day I realized that I was searching for answers on a daily basis, which was creating high levels of anxiety. My fear of recurrence was taking over my life. That’s what living in fear looks like.
Once I realized what was going on, I knew that I needed to change things. I started to work on and manage my fears by using the confidence-building activities and tools covered below. Using these tools helped to change my focus.
I can’t overstate the difference it made to my life. I’ve taken control of what I can (such as diet and exercise) and now live a happier, more fulfilled life.
Do I still have fears that my cancer will come back? Of course. But I greatly diminished my fears to a rational level so that they don’t negatively impact my mindset or life. I no longer live in fear.
[Recommended Reading: Learn more about my battle with breast cancer and the lessons learned from my journey by reading 10 Powerful Life Lessons On How To Be Happy (Thanks to Cancer)].
The Interrelationship Between Fear, Self-Confidence and Courage
In talking about how to overcome fear and worry, it might seem strange to introduce concepts related to building self-confidence and courage.
But these concepts are all interrelated. Fear and worry diminishes you (and your self-confidence). It makes you believe that you can’t act courageously. Luckily, building your self-confidence helps with overcoming fear, worry and anxiety. That means that self-confidence building activities are effective fear-busting tools.
Let’s get into how fear works so that you can understand this interrelationship better.
How Fear Works
If you want to stop living in fear, it’s important to understand how fear takes hold of you.
Fear is an emotion (and also a survival mechanism). What you fear and how you respond to any one of your fears are distinctly individual. Everyone fears different things, at different rates and responds in different ways.
And fear is incredibly complex. It can be caused by circumstances, thoughts, past experiences and even trauma.
But regardless of what’s causing you to live in fear, there are a few universal truths when it comes to fear and worry:
- Fear brings forth difficult emotions and thoughts that make you feel vulnerable.
- Fear thrives when ignored and/or pushed away (and often grows to irrational levels).
- Fear lies, convincing you that you’re not capable of overcoming it (eating at your self-confidence).
Sadly, most people try to ignore their fears because they don’t like to face and fully feel all the difficult thoughts and emotions (that bring forth vulnerability). They either push them deep down or pretend that they’re not all that bad.
That’s why so many people end up living in fear. They get caught up in a negative spiral of worry, fear and anxiety that’s impossible to get out of because they refuse to face and deal with their negative thoughts and emotions.
But by facing your fears and allowing yourself to feel vulnerable, you’ll be building self-confidence.
Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety
If you want to stop living in fear, then it’s important to work on your thoughts. Because your fears are a result of your thoughts. Those are what create the negative feelings and emotions that hold you back and keep you stuck.
The point of thought work is to get you to act despite your fears. That’s what living with fear is all about. And that’s really what courage is.
And here’s the thing: you don’t have to take big leaps. All you need is to be able to take a first, small step that creates momentum to keep you going. Doing that creates self-confidence (and increases your willingness to take another courageous step).
The effect of taking that first (and then next) step is this: it gives you faith in yourself and your decisions. You’ll know that you’re okay despite the negative thoughts and emotions swirling within your head. And you’ll also know that you CAN act courageously.
What I’m describing is the process that takes you from living in fear to living with fear. And it all starts with specific exercises designed to help you face your fears and worries head-on, challenge them when appropriate and act despite them.
How to Start Taking Control Of Your Life Through Your Thoughts
Fear deprives you of control. It convinces you that you’re powerless and ineffective. But here’s the thing: control isn’t what you think it is.
What Taking Control of Your Life Really Means
Humans obsess over a lot of things that aren’t within their control and pay little attention to what they can control. And obsessing over uncontrollable things only makes things worse (and makes you feel more out of control than ever). It’s a vicious cycle.
Taking control of your life is about taking control over how you process your thoughts and emotions. That’s where thought work comes into play (and what confidence-building activities and tools are all about).
You can’t control other people, many of your circumstances or even the outcome of your efforts. What you can control is how you choose to process and respond to your thoughts, fears and worries.
The right strategies will help you:
- Become more self-aware of your fears and the thoughts behind them,
- Diminish emotional reactivity to your fears and worries,
- Detach from your fears, and
- Act intentionally despite your fears.
Ultimately, your thoughts are what determine how you live your life and how happy you are. Each thought creates a corresponding emotion, which then influences your decisions.
If you want to stop living in fear and instead be more courageous, it’s time to take control of your life through your thoughts.
What Taking Control of Your Life Looks Like
When negative events (such as a family member’s death, being laid off from work, or your marriage falling apart) punch you in the gut, you can…
- crawl into a hole of denial and push people away;
- ignore a looming financial problem; or
- blame your ex-spouse for everything.
Or you could…
- deal with your emotions and allow others to help you;
- face your financial problems head-on by spending less and even selling your home; or
- take responsibility for your part in the dissolution of your marriage, learn from it and let go of resentment and shame.
Let me be clear: this isn’t necessarily easy and it doesn’t mean that you won’t ever worry or stress over life events. But taking control of your mindset is what will enable you to not get stuck in fear, worry and stress no matter what’s going on in life. And it will help you to recover more quickly (you’ll be more resilient).
What t I want you to know (more than anything) is that you have the power to choose to be courageous. Courage is nothing more than acting despite your fears (not some mythical thing reserved only for a few). It’s a choice.
And I want you to start making that choice for yourself NOW so that you can stop living in fear and instead move beyond it.
[Recommended Reading: How to Take Control of Your Emotions So They Don’t Control You].
What Doesn’t Work
Before getting into specific exercises and tools to help you stop living in fear, let’s talk about what doesn’t work (yet is often offered up as a solution for overcoming fear, worry and anxiety):
Merely thinking positively doesn’t work (and can actually makes things worse).
The truth is that you can’t overcome fear or build self-confidence through positive thinking. Your mind knows better and so it doesn’t work to change your thoughts (about yourself or the world around you).
Not only will your fears and doubts continue to plague you, but your mind will likely revolt and start thinking things like. . .
- What’s wrong with me?
- Why isn’t this working for me when it works for everyone else?
- I’m a failure (and nothing is going to work).
These are lies that your inner critic likes to tell you (that are based in and grow from fear).
For additional help to effectively deal with your inner critic, don’t forget to download your guide of 8 healthy mindset and stress management strategies for creating a calm mind that’s resilient to stress and emotionally in control.
Get your free guide here:
How to Stop Living In Fear, Start Taking Control: 5 Tools
Here are five effective tools to help you stop living in fear and instead live with (a lot less) fear. I encourage you to try all of them and even to use them together (some build upon one another).
Tool #1: Sit With Your Thoughts and Emotions
Our first confidence-building tool to help you stop living in fear works by helping you to face your vulnerable feelings head-on and decrease the power they have over you. I especially recommend this exercise for anyone who’s easily triggered by emotions (and is described by others as emotional or emotionally reactive).
Not only will this exercise help you to move beyond your emotions and fears, but it will help you to discover many of the thoughts behind your feelings so that you can deal with the root issues (that are difficult to see clearly when feeling overwhelmed by emotions). Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Take Slow, Deep Breaths Through Your Nose (and Count Them)
Whenever you feel a difficult emotion or notice that you fear (or are worrying over) something, deeply breathe in and out through your nose slowly. Count each breath as it goes in and out of your nose. And try to do this for at least 1-2 minutes.
This simple exercise helps to calm you and taps into the areas in your brain that deal with emotion and awareness.
Step 2: Reflect On Your Emotions and Thoughts
Take 5 minutes for quiet reflection. Notice your emotions and the thoughts behind them. Start asking questions about how you feel and what thoughts you’re having that cause you to feel the way you do.
I recommend writing this all down (it’s therapeutic and will help you go deeper into the thoughts and emotions that you’re feeling). Writing your thoughts and emotions down (and labeling them) will reduce your anxiety and stress levels caused by your worries and fears, thereby diminishing the power they have over you.
At the 5-minute mark, move on.
Step 3: Sit With Your Thoughts and Emotions
There are two common reactions to becoming more aware of your fears, thoughts and emotions:
- Pushing them away and/or pretending they’re not that bad, or
- Reacting out of emotion.
Unfortunately, both reactions are damaging.
Instead of ignoring your emotions or reacting to them, sit with your thoughts and emotions. Do nothing about them yet don’t ignore them either. Let them just exist.
Fair warning: this isn’t easy (it will feel super hard at first). But the longer you sit with your emotions, the less control they’ll have over you. You’ll realize that you’re still okay despite these feelings, which will empower you to act despite your fears. Remember, that’s what living with your fears (as opposed to living in fear) is all about.
Tool #2: Befriend Your Negative Voice
It’s important to befriend the negative voice that shows up when fear, worry and anxiety take hold. That’s how to detach from all the emotions and make an intentional, unemotional decision.
To befriend your negative voice:
- Name your inner critic (yes, really). This will help to separate it from you, reducing the impact your inner critic has on you.
- Talk to your inner critic as if she’s a well-meaning (albeit negative) friend who’s trying to help you. I like to think of her as if she’s Sadness from the movie Inside-Out.
- Don’t let your friend get repetitive. As soon as that happens, thank her and tell her that you’ll consider what she’s told you. Then tell her that she’s done her job and can go away.
Although this exercise is simple, it helps with overcoming fear, worry and anxiety by (1) separating rational fears and worries from irrational ones and (2) changing the relationship you have with the negative voice inside your head. You’ll be taking more control, thereby increasing your self-confidence levels and changing how you relate to your fears and thoughts.
Tool #3: Challenge and Ask What If
This confidence-building activity works especially well for overcoming fear, worry and anxiety arising from a big change or action that you’re contemplating (and is especially helpful when facing fear of failure, the unknown, what others might think, and/or success).
It can also help with impostor syndrome (i.e., thinking that you’re not good enough, don’t deserve what you have and/or will one day be discovered as a fraud).
Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Name the Fear (and the Thoughts/Emotions Around It)
Again, you must be clear about what’s going on within you to tackle it. Get out a notebook and take a few minutes to write down what you fear, why you fear it and what thoughts and emotions are swirling around within.
Writing everything down will organize your thoughts, bring more self-awareness around what’s going on and help you to label your feelings (which reduces some of the fear).
Step 2: Ask What Could Go Right, While Considering The Risk of Doing Nothing
When it comes to taking action and making changes, human beings tend to focus primarily on the negative potential outcomes and the risk of taking action instead of what could go right or the risk of doing nothing. And that tends to feed fear, worry and anxiety.
So that you don’t get caught up in the negative and don’t forget to consider the risk of doing nothing:
- Identify the best that could happen. Be specific about this.
- Identify the negative consequences of not acting. Be sure to think about the long-term repercussions of doing nothing and allowing things to go on as-is.
Step 3: Challenge Your Doubts, Worries and Fears
Although many doubts, worries and fears are rational, often they’re not (or they’re taken to an irrational extreme).
Take a few minutes to write down all the reasons why your doubts, worries and/or fears are false or not all that bad. Ask what evidence you have that rebuts them.
Challenge them as if you’re doing it on behalf of your best friend. What would you tell them?
As you begin to find reasons to rebut your self-doubt, you’ll be transforming the negativity going on in your head into a more positive feeling (and more positive language). You’ll be practicing compassion towards yourself, which builds self-confidence.
Step 4: Ask What If
One of the most useful questions I ask my clients when they’re obsessing over fears and worries is to ask them “So if that happens, then what?”.
Without fail, my clients pause for a long while (sometimes as long as a minute) and then say that it probably wouldn’t be all that bad. And then they go into what they’d do if it happened.
Going through this exercise will help get you into action (instead of worrying over what might happen) and gives you back control. It also helps you to realize that you can get through the worst-case scenario.
The end result is less fear and the ability to move forward with more courage (that’s true empowerment, y’all!).
Tool #4: Use Self-Affirmations (The Right Way)
Positive affirmations are powerful tools… when done right. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation around how to use them (it’s where a lot of the bad positive thinking advice shows up).
To use positive affirmations correctly, you need to follow a few rules:
- Be specific. Don’t generalize, but instead be specific about what’s going on and why you lack confidence.
- Express your affirmation in the present tense.
- Use only facts and what you know to be true. Don’t sugarcoat by being overly positive.
- Tell a narrative. Be clear about where you are and how you’re utilizing your current capabilities and strengths (plus any resources) to get you where you want to be.
- Start with where you are and what you can believe now that gets you closer to where you’re going. As your confidence builds, change your affirmation to get you closer to your ultimate end result. For example, if you want to confidently speak on stage but are terrified of speaking up anywhere, start with speaking up in meetings. Once there, move on to leading them. And then move to speaking in front of strangers (and keep going).
Here is an example of an affirmation to deal with fear of failure when taking on a new role:
“I’m prepared as I can be and have the additional resources to back me up when needed. Even though I will falter at times (and might face difficulties), I know that I’ll learn from my experiences and that these so-called failures will eventually help me to grow and ultimately succeed.”
Tool #5: Turn Failures Into Success By Failing-Forward
This confidence-building tool is best used when contemplating a big decision or change (and fear of uncertainty, change, and/or failure is getting in your way).
To use this tool, get out a piece of paper and create 4 columns:
- In column one, list the achievements you’re proud of.
- In the second column, list your skills and strengths (and how they’ve helped you in the past to succeed).
- In column three, list the times when you failed and the growth you experienced (and lessons learned) from each experience.
- In the fourth column, list how your failures helped you to succeed later on.
This confidence-building activity will help you to put things into perspective while reminding you that a so-called failure isn’t truly a failure if you’ve learned from it (making it easier to take a leap of faith). That’s how you’ll stop living in fear around taking a chance and instead act with more confidence and courage.
[Recommended Reading: For more about how to fail-forward, read How To Be Confident Again After Failure (5 Strategies)].
Start Acting With Courage Now
Here’s a quick summary of what we covered:
- You can stop living in fear by working on your thoughts and your inner voice (known as thought work).
- There’s no such thing as being 100% fearless, but you CAN live alongside fear and not let it stop you.
- Using proper tools (like the 5 covered above), you can change your thoughts, challenge your fears and start living with fear instead of living in fear.
But note: the exercises above only work if you use them consistently.
Want to take this even further? I have two recommendations for you.
#1: Change your thoughts using proven confidence-building activities.
Use additional exercises that are aimed at improving your self-confidence. To learn how, read my article about 5 Confidence-Building Activities (To Believe In Yourself, Achieve More).
#2: Calm you mind and decrease stress levels.
Remember: stress feeds fear. As part of a healthy mindset, you’ll want to ensure that you prevent and manage your stress levels.
And you can do that using my free resource of 8 proven mindset/stress management strategies for a healthy mind, happier life. Grab your copy here: