Fear is a powerful emotion that we all experience in our lives, and it is something that can be very challenging to deal with, but you can learn how to overcome fear and anxiety.
When we are pursuing a new experience, like a new job opportunity, relationship, or starting a business, fear can hold us back. It can make us see challenges as insurmountable or make us over-prepare to the point that it slows our growth.
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Fear and Anxiety
“Every time your fear is invited up, every time you recognize it and smile at it, your fear will lose some of its strength.”Thich Nhat Hanh
The best way to deal with fear is to face it. In facing it, you get to see if the story you made up around the issue is true or what you may be lacking to help you move forward. The more we avoid the problem, the more anxiety we consequently cause around it. For example, if you are constantly thinking about whether you will do well on an upcoming exam, you can’t sleep. The consequent exhaustion then triggers even more anxiety because you can’t concentrate and study, further impacting your sleep– and just like that, the worry has just become a debilitating cycle, confirming your worst fear- you won’t be ready for the exam and will fail.
Instead, the goal has to become to lean into the fear so you can disarm it. What if you acknowledged what your worry and fear was in the first place instead of reacting to it. Could we possibly find a better response so it loses some of its strength?
How do fears get in the way of being successful?
Culturally, I’ve been raised to not speak over others, and I think I have this natural resistance to being seen, and it’s my kryptonite that shows up at the wrong time. I can still recall moments sitting “at the table” with people in my profession and listening to them give their opinions on things and wanting to give my two cents but struggling within myself to speak up.
Fear and anxiety work like that to cripple you within yourself.
Those experiences can be triggered by various fears like the fear of judgment, failure, or the fear of being alone, and sometimes even the fear of being successful.
When challenged in that space, it can have this counter-response that looks like overthinking, avoiding opportunities, missed deadlines, low energy, feeling disconnected from your work, procrastination, perfectionism, irritability, or indecisiveness.
How can we overcome fear and anxiety?
Fear is a built in instinct to protect you, so we don’t want to get rid of it, but we do want to help our brains understand the moments we are in fact safe and don’t need that fear reaction. The most effective way to overcome fear, in that case, is to repeatedly do the thing that causes it, but in a safe and controlled way. During this process of exposure, coupled with some skills, you can learn to ride out the anxiety and fear until it naturally subsides.
When the emotion of fear or anxiety seems overwhelming, try to shift your focus to a healthier thought or a skill that will reduce the feelings, so it is more manageable. A stress-reduction approach like mindfulness or simply taking a break and disconnecting from the issue and going for a walk may help you better take the actions you need to be successful. I would also add to be patient and add some compassion into the process. Your mind is working to keep you safe when these responses are triggered. It can’t always tell the action you want to take isn’t a dangerous risk but one you can handle and necessary to improve your current situation.
How to overcome the fears of growth as a professional
Start by identifying the fears holding you back from reaching your next level. Our thoughts are powerful, but they can be damaging and limiting when building out your dreams. The fear of failure is like the dark cloud that follows most professionals as they work on advancing their careers, especially through entrepreneurship. Rather than simply stopping people from being entrepreneurial, fear of failure can also serve as a motivator for success with a better understanding of your response dynamics. To help you better recognize and challenge your internal reactions to growth we put together some exercises to help you find those fears with the Believe Bigger Workbook available here.
Here are a few prompts from the workbook to challenge your mindset:
- Once you’ve identified a few of your fears, can you think of specific experiences from your life that might have formed these fears?
- What do you feel is holding you back from more significant success?
- Recall a time you were afraid. How did you move past the fear?
- Pause for a moment and identify and write about five of your strengths.
To deepen this practice and find the root of self-sabotaging behaviors, try keeping a journal over a period of two or three weeks. Look for any patterns you notice, the source of those fears (family, culture, financial, criticism, etc), and their validity. Fear is often fed by false stories making your experience seem much worse than it really is.
- Lean into your fears. Figure out what it’s about, and if it is valid for the direction you are going.
- Practice stress reduction techniques like mindfulness or disconnecting from the source of distress at the moment.
- Shift your focus to more positive thoughts or emotions. Use your imagination or visualization to picture that same fearful experience with a positive outcome, and embrace the positive emotions you anticipate feeling with your successful outcome. The control and calm you experience during your visualization can actually help you get through the actual ordeal with more ease.
- Challenge your mindset around the fear with journal prompts like the one above and other exploratory resources like the Believing Bigger Workbook for Women in Business.
- Practice Compassion. Your mind is only trying to keep you safe.
Amanda Fludd, LCSW-R is a Licensed therapist, speaker, and Mindset Coach for high achieving women in business. Her joy is addressing mental health on multiple levels from the boardroom to your virtual office.