Staring Down Your Zombie and Facing Your Fears
8/6/2012 11:32:00 AM
For my birthday this year I got a great gift: I was registered without my knowledge in a zombie 5k race, where I would be chased by zombies through a 3-mile obstacle course. This was a gift from someone who knows me well, including the embarrassing fact that I am actually deathly afraid of zombies and have been since I was a kid. Yes, I know they don’t really exist...but try telling me that on a dark road near the cemetery and you’ll be talking to yourself as I leave you in the dust. Knowing something doesn’t necessarily take away the fear of it.
Which brings me to my point: just because you can rationally dissect and analyze a fear, that doesn’t mean it will go away. Fears are an emotional reaction, not a mental one, and just because you might understand them with your brain, that doesn’t mean you still won’t feel them emotionally and physically. In fact, some fears have such a big impact on us that they prevent us from doing things we might otherwise gain from, or cause us to avoid situations we really should participate in. Whether it’s a lifelong fear (spiders, drowning, zombies, etc.) or a situational “uncomfortability” (speaking in front of people, confrontation, asking for a raise, etc.), our fears can rob us of the opportunity to get what we want.
Whatever the fear is, chances are it keeps us from something that we want or prevents us from enjoying something we already have. We might really want to do a triathlon, but we are afraid of drowning. We might really want to be like our co-worker who is so comfortable speaking at departmental meetings, but we are just too shy. We might want to paint the house instead of hiring someone to do it, but we are afraid to go up on the ladder. We might want to try a long bike ride, but we are afraid we’ll crash or get injured. The hidden beauty of confronting and working to eliminate (or at least decrease) our fears is that whether or not we actually succeed at eliminating the fear, just going through the process of trying strengthens our confidence and courage.
So here’s the good news: fears are also a learned response, so the key to overcoming them is to learn and practice a different response to reduce the power they have over you. Of course there are some exceptions, but most fears can be overcome by addressing them head on and then taking steps to depower them. When your quality of life suffers because of a particular fear you have, that’s a great reason to consider making a start to rid yourself of that fear.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Here are five tips to help you stare down your own zombie and decrease the power of your fear behind it:
- Know what you’re dealing with and why. Just like with any problem, it helps to have a basic understanding of what it is and how it got started before you look for a way to eliminate it. Even if you can’t figure out why, at least identify when the fear started so you have a sense of its history. Also pay attention to whether there has been a progression to the intensity of the fear over the years. If it has gotten worse, then it’s definitely a good time to take a look at it.
- Make a plan with a reasonable deadline. How you address your fear depends on what the fear is. For example, if you have a fear of heights, then learning to be comfortable climbing a ladder might be a more reasonable way to face your fear rather than skydiving. Doing anything extreme may backfire on you and intensify the fear rather than decrease it. So think about a reasonable, realistic way you can face your fear on your own terms. Also, choose a deadline far into the future so you can mentally and emotionally prepare. Jumping into something is not a good approach when it comes to fear, and can make the situation worse, not better.
- Get support. Talk to your friends and family about what you hope to do. Maybe someone else has the same fear and would be willing to join you in your goal. It’s much easier to combat a fear with someone who knows what you’re dealing with and how it feels. Another great form of support is someone who is trained in the area of your fear. For example, if you have a fear of drowning, consider getting a swim instructor to help become a better swimmer. If your fear is more psychological, consider a therapist. Most therapists are trained to help us overcome our obstacles so we can get to where we want to be.
- Take small steps. While immersion therapy (the act of directly exposing a person to his/her fear) is used by some mental health professionals to help people overcome phobias, it’s not necessarily the best approach for the rest of us. While we do need to muster up the courage to face our fear, we also need to be sure to do it on terms we can handle. If you are afraid of drowning, the answer is not to jump into water over your head and then tough it out. The answer is to start from the shore and take small steps into the water, stopping to get comfortable at certain depths, then progressing when it feels safe to do so. This is what gives us back a sense of control, which is key to the entire process. Overcoming our fears is about taking back control.
- Visualize yourself without the fear. Can you imagine how you would feel if you didn’t have a particular fear? What you would look like doing the thing you were afraid of? I have an active fear of drowning, so I love to watch the swim competitions in the summer Olympics. Talk about fearless, confident, courageous swimming. When I swim laps, I visualize myself swimming with their technique and confidence, and I forget all about the fact that I could go under. Instead, I see myself in my mind swimming the way I want to, and can feel myself swimming better because of it. In order to accomplish a goal, you need to first be able to see yourself reaching it. So visualize yourself doing that thing you think you cannot do, then take steps to eventually do it.
Finally, the other good news is that practice makes perfect. The more we face our fears and take steps to decrease them, the more confidence and courage we gain in watching ourselves do something we never thought we were capable of. Just as our physical muscles get stronger when we exercise them, so do our emotional muscles. There’s really no difference.
So as you think about the coming new year and your plans for 2012, why not face a fear or two and free yourself from it? It’s easier than you think, and you just might surprise yourself. I’m hoping the same for myself as I face my zombies head-on during the Zombie 5k in May. Wish me luck, and good luck to you!