Facing Your Fears: Overcoming The Things That Scare You The Most

Medically reviewed by Kayce Bragg, LPCS, LAC, LCPC, LPC, NCC
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Everyone has something they’re scared of, even the strongest, bravest people. According to Robin Stern, associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, "Fear signals that there is danger and is a universal emotion experienced all over the world.” Fear is a natural part of the human psyche, and though it’s not entirely possible to completely eliminate fear, it is possible to manage your fears. 

Learning your fears often involves confronting them head-on and working to understand them. If you practice facing the things that scare you, you can develop better ways to manage that fear in your daily life, no matter what scary thing arises. By doing so, you won’t feel forced to avoid things or live in a constant state of worry because of a specific fear.

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Are your fears preventing you from living a fulfilling life?

Why it is important to face your fears

This is the true goal of overcoming your fears: identifying them, understanding them, and managing them in a healthy, productive way.

When it comes to fear, most people’s initial response when they happen to face the thing they’re afraid of is to continue avoiding it! It’s a natural emotional response to want to avoid contact with the thing or situation you’re afraid of. After all, that’s how fear works! But, if your fear is of something that doesn’t make logical sense (i.e., there’s not a threat of imminent danger), then facing your irrational fears can help you build your confidence and live a fuller and more fulfilling life.

One of the most significant advantages of facing your fears is that you can develop courage in all areas of your life, not only when it comes to facing the thing you’re afraid of. Whenever something happens that’s concerning, or that touches on other fears, no matter how major or minor, you can be better equipped to manage your emotions and physical responses to the fear (or the anticipation of it).

Also, learning how to face and cope with your fears can help cultivate compassion. When you recognize and confront your own anxieties and fears with love and respect for yourself, you’re more likely to start working with other people in the same calm way, whether it be a loved one, employee, boss, or even just a person on the street.

So how do you begin to face your fear? If you’re afraid of something, there’s going to be resistance! You’ll have to develop a well-thought-out plan for facing your fears, and it never hurts to have the support of those around you. This article provides tips on some of the best ways to overcome the things that scare you the most.

How to face your fears

There are many, many ways to begin overcoming a fear. The way that each person approaches overcoming fear is different and very personal, however, research shows there are still a few specific methods and techniques that are particularly useful.

Let’s take a look at some of the most effective ways to confront fear.

Actively engage with or think about the fear

Depending on the fear, this may be more or less difficult to actually do, and depending on the intensity of the fear, you may need to start by approaching the fear for only 2-3 minutes at a time. As a more tangible example, someone with a fear of spiders might read a book or a web article about spiders. In contrast, someone with glossophobia, a fear of public speaking, might sit and picture being in front of a large group of people while presenting on a topic. In either situation, it may help to focus on how you breathe, making sure your muscles are relaxed as you remind your mind and body that you are not at risk of any harm.

A study published in Science in 2019 demonstrated that mice had to be re-exposed to the thing they were afraid of to overcome it once and for all; this study advocated for the need to actively engage with a phobia to be able to overcome it successfully.

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There are some essential things to remember when you’re actively engaging with specific fears. First of all, you should remember that you can always take a step back from the fearful situation to take a break. Second, it can be helpful to reward yourself after confronting your fear by engaging in a positive and enjoyable activity that will help you relax. This could be taking a bath, reading your favorite book, or spending time with loved ones.

Learn from your fear

One thing that’s commonly overlooked regarding fear is that, often, they have something to teach us. Many people who struggle with phobias have some core, underlying set of beliefs, life events, or thought patterns that fuel the fear. By taking the time to try and honor the anxiety, learning about it, and trying to understand it, you may learn more about yourself and how your brain works. Consider asking your fear what it has taught you and what it can teach you in the future.

It’s important to have courage in overcoming and approaching the fear from the standpoint of wanting to learn about it; understanding it can be a form of courage and strength. Being able to acknowledge that fear can be instructive and that you’re strong and wise enough to learn what it has to teach you can be a powerful thing. Although it might seem counterintuitive to honor fear in this way, when you give the fear the respect it deserves and try to learn from it while you overcome it, the fear is no longer in charge. You and the fear may become equals, and suddenly, you’re back in control of your life and your situation.

Explore the fear with courage, and you might be surprised by what you find!

Give yourself the care you deserve

While you’re working on overcoming your fears, it’s vital to continue a healthy routine of self-care. Facing your fears is difficult, and you may need a bit of extra time each day to nurture your mind and body. You may also consider asking someone you have a close relationship with, such as a friend or family, to act as extra support while you work through your fear.

Ilona Titova/EyeEm
Are your fears preventing you from living a fulfilling life?

The human body manifests a physiological response in the face of fear, so it’s only natural that after facing your fears, you may need to wind down and relax. At the same time, it’s important to get enough exercise and movement during the day! Exercise releases endorphins and helps your body and mind to feel good. Create a routine that works for you.

Talk to a therapist

Anyone with a fear of anything can benefit from talking to an expert on the subject. There are many kinds of therapists who work with phobias with great success. Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves a technique called “desensitization,” more often referred to as exposure therapy, to treat and manage fears by gradually exposing the patient to the fear over some time. 

Jessica Burnette, LCSW
Jessica is a fantastic therapist, and she’s managed to establish a strong relationship with me. I trust her fully and she understands and helps me see things from different perspectives. She helped me face my fears and become more resilient in difficult situations. She’s been an amazing support and a great source of wisdom and knowledge.”

Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves regular talk therapy as well as other specialized techniques that target the fear directly; hypnotherapy, in contrast, works with the patient’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences to find the root cause of the fear and reframe the situation so that the fear doesn’t exist anymore. Both cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy are effective in treating phobias, and it’s up to the patient which method they choose if they decide to get therapy to overcome their fears. Most often, with either therapy, the patient will need to attend more than one session.

Today, you don’t even have to go into a therapist’s office to receive the help you need. Online therapy has been proven to be just as effective as in-person therapy, especially when it comes to behavioral treatments. It may be useful for those who have complicated schedules or for those in a specific situation where fear makes it difficult for them to leave their home.

Takeaway

Facing your fears is tough, and for some people, it can be a long journey. But the journey is well worth it because the lessons you learn and the courage you gain will stay with you for life. Overcoming a phobia can be a powerful and rewarding experience with many rewards along the way. It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s also okay to realize that you’re in control and that you have the power and strength to overcome it!

If you're currently struggling with a phobia, contact the team of licensed therapists at BetterHelp. You can match with a therapist who will work with you to help you overcome your fears. You can also message your therapist at any time, meaning you can record your reactions to fear stimuli in the moment for a more accurate response. There is never any shame in asking for help, regardless of your phobia. The BetterHelp team is here to support you.

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