On the surface, you would never guess that I struggle with fear. Haunted houses, scary movies, and visiting the dentist do not phase me. I have no problem with heights or flying in airplanes.
However, a few years ago a radical shift happened. At night, I couldn’t go to sleep until I had personally checked all the doors were locked and the garage door closed.
I would wake up in a cold sweat convinced that there was someone (or something) in the room with me. I would lay in bed paralyzed as I watched shadows (that only existed my mind) float across my bedroom ceiling.
During the day, I was extremely careful and suspicious – constantly thinking through worst-case scenarios and questioning the underlying motivations of others.
I wish I could pinpoint the one thing that caused this overwhelming fear and anxiety to bubble up in my life, but the truth is that it was probably a perfect storm of many things: a combination of my innate personality traits, exhaustion, stress, and lack of self-care.
Building Resilience to Fear
I understood it wasn’t realistic to eliminate all fear, so instead my goal was to build up a resistance to it. To observe it, but not be troubled by it. To experience it ever so briefly, but to bounce back.
Over the last few years, I have worked on ways to cultivate this type of resilience. Of all of the strategies I have tried, there are two that have made the biggest impact in my life:
1. Limit Your Exposure
Statistically, we live in the safest time in human history, but due to the onslaught of information we absorb through television, print, and social media it is no wonder that the world feels anything but safe. Of course, we should not bury our heads in the sand and be uninformed of current events, but if you struggle with fear, I would urge you to take some steps to curate where, how, and how often you are getting your news. Some ideas to limit your exposure:
- Skip the local news in favor of safety and weather alerts from your city’s local agencies (police, fire, city hall, school).
- Unfollow well-meaning friends and family who post fear-inducing articles on social media.
- Limit online research to a few trusted outlets (and understand the bias of those sources).
Allsides.com is a great resource for this.
- Look beyond the 24 hour news cycle. Podcasts, magazine articles, non-fiction books, and memoirs can be excellent ways to understand current events with more depth and perspective. Bonus: some of them are actually quite entertaining!
2. Grow Your Faith
I always assumed that to defeat my fear I had to be brave and push past it, despite my anxiety. The problem is that courage, by definition, is a mental strength that comes from within- something that you either have, or you don’t. By trying to be brave, I felt like I wasn’t conquering my fear, but trying to fake my way through it. Then I learned this simple truth:
The answer to fear is not courage. The answer is faith.
This is great news for us. Faith is a belief or trust in something outside of yourself. Faith is something that you can build and develop, and by building your faith you can become more resilient to fear. As a Christian, my biggest source of faith is God, but all people have faith in something: be it a respected leader, family member, or humanity itself. I love this quote from Fred Rodgers from the beloved Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood.
“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
When I find myself back in a fearful place, it usually means that I need to renew my faith in God, and in humanity. A few ways to build your faith:
- Make a list of people you admire and why. Add them to your social media feeds.
- Go for a walk in nature without electronics. Bonus: take your kids and/or dog with you.
- Read the Bible and note what the scriptures have to say about fear.
One of my favorites is 1 John 4:18:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
- Do random acts of kindness.
- Watch or listen to an inspirational story.
Freedom From Fear
Since taking steps to limit my exposure and grow my faith, I am happy to say that I am sleeping soundly these days. Every once in a while something will trigger my fear and make it harder to fall asleep, but those episodes are becoming much more rare. When fear does rear it’s ugly head I now have strategies in place to get through it.
I would love to know:
Have you struggled with fear like me? What tools and tips have helped you overcome that fear? Please feel free to share in the comments.