How To Be Brave: Understanding And Overcoming Fear

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Like other living things, humans have an innate fear response as part of our self-preservation instinct. Fear is vital to our ability to survive, helping us sense and avoid danger. However, this fear response can sometimes kick in even when we are in no real danger, resulting in anxiety, avoidance, and other unfavorable outcomes.

For example, fear of failure may impede your ability to recognize your aptitudes, while fear of the unknown may prevent you from seeking new experiences and opportunities. Fear of rejection may inhibit you from forging meaningful connections with others, resulting in social anxiety. Overcoming these common fears involves recognizing, reframing, and managing fear-based thoughts.

Here, we will explore the nature of fear and the importance of bravery, plus some therapist-approved ways to develop bravery and resilience. By learning to differentiate between rational and irrational fear, you may be better able to recognize opportunities for learning and personal growth.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Therapy can help you gain courage

Understanding fear

To develop bravery, it may be important to gain a deeper understanding of your fears and determine whether your fear is rational. To begin, ask yourself why you think you may be feeling fear or uncertainty:

  • Is there some feeling or situation you are trying to avoid?
  • Is your fear primarily physical or emotional?
  • Are your fears based on past experiences, anxiety about the future, or some other factor?

This reflection process may help you identify whether your fears are rational or irrational. 

  • Rational fears are often physical, and may feel like a “gut feeling.” This is your body’s way of signaling danger, and tends to arise as a result of a real threat rather than an imaginary or hypothetical scenario. For example, you might feel rational fear when you are standing near the edge of a drop-off or in a tense situation with an untrustworthy person.
  • Irrational fears tend to be based on an imaginary or hypothetical scenario and often manifest as anxious or intrusive thoughts. Irrational fears can impact your willingness to take calculated risks. For example, you may feel anxious about or avoid flying on an airplane due to news items about plane crashes, despite the fact that plane crashes are very rare. 
  • Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an extreme and irrational fear of objects and situations that do not pose a realistic danger. For example, a person with arachnophobia may exhibit extreme fear in the presence of a common house spider. Phobias may significantly interfere with functioning and often require mental health treatment.

Fear, anxiety, and the brain

The brain’s fear response is deeply ingrained in parts of the brain that evolved in early mammals. Perceiving a threat activates your brain’s amygdala, triggering your hypothalamus to stimulate your body’s “fight or flight” response. This results in heightened alertness, increased heart rate, and rapid breathing.

However, your fear response can also become activated by thoughts themselves. This is commonly referred to as anxiety, which is characterized by irrational fear or worry about certain situations or events. For example, a person with social anxiety may process the possibility of judgment by others as a threat, which may trigger anxious thoughts, unpleasant feelings, or even panic attacks

While it may be normal to occasionally experience nervousness about stressful situations like exams or job interviews, anxiety can pose an obstacle to one’s ability to function in everyday life, impacting decision-making, relationships, and overall wellbeing. However, by challenging unhelpful thoughts, it may be possible to rewire the brain in a way that counteracts or overrides its fear response. 

Importance of bravery

It can be helpful to think of bravery as a way of overriding the brain’s fear response by replacing fear-inducing thoughts with healthier, more adaptive thoughts. Cultivating bravery typically involves identifying and examining the source of your fear or anxiety and learning how to challenge those thought and behavior patterns. This process is called cognitive restructuring, and can be achieved through self-help and therapy. 

For example, a person with social anxiety may use positive self-talk and mindfulness to help them gain the courage to engage in conversation with others. When beginning the cognitive restructuring process, it may take significant effort and bravery to face your fears. Over time, however, your brain will adapt, helping control and minimize the fear response.

Bravery is often essential as you work towards your goals and realize your ambitions. It is normal to feel trepidation as you intentionally put yourself in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. For example, it may take courage to try something for the first time, travel to a new place, or open up to someone about your feelings.

By making oneself vulnerable, however, you can open the door to new experiences and opportunities. In the process, you may gain valuable wisdom and confidence that will help you navigate future situations. This process may lead to a greater sense of resilience, bravery, and self-efficacy that can benefit individuals in relationships, careers, and personal endeavors.


How to be brave: Tools for overcoming fear

With the right approach, it may be possible to overcome fear, anxiety, and catastrophic thinking. Through greater awareness and consistent implementation of cognitive restructuring techniques, you can work towards becoming more courageous, resilient, and growth-oriented.


Self-awareness is often central to overcoming fear. You can enhance self-awareness through activities aimed at self-reflection, such as writing in a journal or speaking with a friend or therapist. Reflect on your fearful thoughts and what may be triggering them. 


Once you have identified your fears, set some goals for overcoming them. This may involve activities aimed at placing yourself in an anxiety-inducing situation, such as through exposure therapy. Rather than confronting your fears head-on, aim for gradual exposure over time. 

Positive self-talk

Build courage by replacing negative thoughts with those that promote confidence and self-belief. For example, you may recite positive affirmations or recall a time when you succeeded at overcoming your fear. Avoid dwelling on past mistakes or failures, instead opting for a positive, growth-oriented narrative.

Alternate narratives

Rather than picturing a worst-case scenario, visualize yourself successfully managing obstacles and finding solutions to potential problems. It may also be helpful to reframe intimidating situations as opportunities for growth and exploration or to try to interpret anxious feelings as excitement. 

Mindfulness and relaxation

Mindfulness and relaxation exercises are often crucial for combating nervousness and anxiety. Observe and examine fearful thoughts and feelings, acknowledging them without allowing them to take over. Deep breathing and grounding exercises may also be beneficial.


Therapy can offer a structured environment for learning how to understand and face irrational fears and phobias. Techniques like exposure therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy are commonly used to help individuals overcome anxiety disorders and cultivate bravery. 

Sustaining bravery over time: Cultivating resilience

When working through fear and anxiety, there may be times when you encounter obstacles and failures. For example, a person with social anxiety may encounter unpleasant people or awkward situations. When this happens, it is often necessary to proactively refrain from reinforcing your fear, instead opting to learn from your mistakes and remain focused on the future.

In doing so, you will build confidence and resilience, making it easier to contend with difficult situations. You may find it helpful to create a support system for yourself, seeking help from a therapist, mentor, friend, or family member. They can help you recognize and celebrate progress while offering valuable support and encouragement as you continue facing your fears.

Therapy can help you gain courage

Overcoming fear in therapy

Cognitive restructuring is the primary treatment technique used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been found across multiple studies to be an effective treatment for anxiety, mood disorders, and other common mental health complaints. In CBT, your therapist will work with you to replace fearful or anxious thoughts with those that bring you courage and confidence.

Exposure therapy may be a worthwhile consideration for individuals with phobias, including agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder. This type of therapy involves gradual and controlled exposure to feared objects or situations. Research has found exposure therapy to be effective for treating a wide variety of phobias.

You can connect with a therapist trained in these types of therapy through online platforms like BetterHelp. Online therapy is known to be just as effective as in-person therapy and may be preferable for individuals whose anxiety makes it challenging to attend in-person appointments. 


Confronting your fears often takes significant time and effort. The fear response is hardwired into the brain, and in order to override it, individuals must actively face and challenge their fears. Through cognitive restructuring, it may be possible to replace anxious or fear-based thoughts with those that foster courage and self-efficacy. Mental health treatments like CBT and exposure therapy offer a way to undergo the process in a safe and structured way. Connect with a therapist on BetterHelp to get started.
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