How to overcome fear: what it is and how it works

Posted on Jul 12, 2022      97

When people get to the end, they laugh at the fears that plagued them in the beginning.

How do you overcome fear? What is it? Let’s tell you a lot of useful and interesting things about this indispensable feeling.

Living in fear is very unpleasant, because it is essentially a cage that limits us. When we are afraid of something, we stop acting, close ourselves off, trying to escape from scary situations.

Before we figure out how to overcome fear, let’s find out what this instinct is and how it works.

What is fear?

Fear is a state of nervous agitation, which is characterized by experiencing a sense of danger or threat. This feeling is given to us from birth for a reason.

Why do we need fear? It protects a person, helps to avoid danger. It is this inner state helped our ancestors to survive. After all, any creature that doesn’t hide and run away from larger animals or dangerous situations is more likely to die.

Our brain quickly and unmistakably identifies a threatening stimulus. But each person’s reaction is unique. It all depends on what we have seen and experienced in life. An experiment with monkeys proves this.

We compared individuals who were raised in a laboratory environment and their “wild” relatives. Both groups were given the opportunity to observe a snake. The monkeys that were raised in the wild knew what the snake was capable of, so they experienced a more pronounced fright than their laboratory counterparts.

What are the fears in humans? The causes?

Fears can be divided into innate and gained. Some researchers suggest a person has only two fears at birth: loud noises and falling. The rest of the fears are gained fears.

Acquired anxiety is caused by frightening life situations one encounters in life. Fear of injections and blood can be caused by a poor doctor’s visit. A poor performance can form a fear of public speaking.

“Learned” or gained fears can and should be tamed so they don’t grow into a phobia.

Hereditary fear

You probably didn’t know it, but an experienced fear can be inherited. An experiment was done on mice. The animals were put in a cage that smelled of acetophenone and were electrocuted at the same time. In this way, they were taught to be afraid of the smell. After that, several studies were conducted.

Scientists have concluded that traumatic events can modify DNA in sperm, thereby altering brain function and behavior in offspring. And scientists also claim that inherited fears can only be passed down through the male line.

In humans, phobias can be transmitted not only through DNA modification but also through behavior. For example, if a mother was attacked by a dog as a child, she will try by all means to protect her child from such occurrences. Intimidation or warnings are used, and as a result, the child will also become afraid of dogs.

How do you deal with fear and anxiety? Let’s move on to the major topic of the article.

How to overcome fear: psychologists’ tips

Let’s look at some interesting methods of overcoming fear. Write in the comments about how you cope with your anxious feelings. Perhaps your method will make it into the article. Now let’s figure out how to get rid of fear and anxiety.

Learn more about what you’re afraid of

What helps a person overcome fear? Information about it. For example, a common fear of childbirth among women is usually caused by dramatic stories of more experienced girlfriends and the dominance of myths associated with the topic.

Therefore, a very important step in preparing for the birth of the child is to attend special courses for pregnant women. The classes include explanatory talks about the clinical course of childbirth, and a positive psychological attitude: “there is a grand prize waiting for you at the finish line”.

This rational approach also applies to other fears. Afraid of flying? It’s time to get to know how an airplane is built, where those “strange” noises that usually panic you, what the turbulence zone is, and what situations can really happen on board an airliner come from. And for a full immersion in the subject, you can take a tour of the flight simulator center.

Knowledge is a major strength in the fight against fear, especially if it’s backed up by action.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine tried to habituate patients to fear in their sleep.

During the day, they developed a strong associative link between negative stimuli and certain smells, and at night, when the volunteers were asleep, they were repeatedly presented with these scents.

The results showed that in the morning; the subjects reacted less emotionally to the threatening objects.

Work out your fear.

How do you properly work through a fear? For example, a person is afraid to meet girls. It is possible, of course, to rush into a relationship and start meeting everyone in a row. It is good if the person immediately works out somehow and receives positive reinforcement. But what if he doesn’t? And most likely not, because fear constrains, it is unlikely to be natural and hold up well. Then it turns out that fear only strengthens.

Try to find yourself in your fear. If you look at fear metaphorically, it’s a tin can tied to a puppy’s tail. The puppy runs, he can rattle and rattles, and he’s afraid of it. He runs even faster, but he can only rattle more. This will not solve the problem. You can’t escape your fear.

What do you need to do? First, you need to stop and decide to look at your fear. What are you afraid of? What scares you right now?

If we go back to the fear of meeting a girl. Try to admit to yourself what exactly scares you. The process itself or the consequences, or maybe all the above. Often a person is afraid of both. That he won’t be good enough, that he won’t be perceived, that he won’t be able to cheer up and interest the girl. As a result, she won’t want to continue the relationship. But, if you don’t try it, all the more there won’t be any relationship.

Be alone with your fear, try to look into it. Maybe even amplify it somehow. Imagine this situation, find yourself in it and look around, try to settle in. And when that happens, you will for sure understand that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Everyone probably has such an experience. For example, children are afraid of the dark, and many of them get over that fear when they grow up. How do they overcome it? They don’t fight it or run away from it. They just stay with the darkness at some point, are in it. In the end, the anxious feeling goes away, because fear is something that exists only in our heads, not in reality.

Just don’t confuse the feeling of danger with imaginary fears. For example, if 3 shouldered guys came up to you at night and demanded your wallet, and you got scared. That’s normal. This is a genuine threat to life, the instinct of self-preservation works.

It’s different if you’re sitting at home and you’re afraid to go out, because suddenly 3 big guys come up to you. That kind of fear is formed in your head. Stay with your fear. Think about where it comes from. Why do you think this is what will happen?

Step two.

This was the first step. When a person spends a little time with their fear, that fear goes away, because they see that it’s not real. The courage or willingness to take the next step, the experiment, appears.

If we go back to the first example, an experiment is an attempt to talk to a girl, not necessarily to get acquainted. It’s very important to do it while staying attentive to yourself. Feel the fear raging inside, the thoughts: you’re talking some nonsense, you’re not acting that way, you don’t look that way. And the other person’s reaction will help us see that this has nothing to do with reality.

The more one can perform such experiments, the clearer and clearer the accurate picture will emerge: no one reacts to us this way.

Legitimize your fear

There is also a method that will help a person alleviate the situation - legitimize his fear. If you are afraid, but still ready to talk to a girl or a guy (there is no difference), admit to your conversation partner that you are worried.

Once you’ve legitimized your fear, you’ve absolved yourself of responsibility for it. When the person has admitted that they themselves are worried, they stop being nervous about being seen. A kind of relief is felt, as there is one less thought process.

A game of tetras

According to experts, psychotherapeutic treatment for anxiety disorders should ideally be done with relaxation techniques such as conscious breath control, meditation and yoga.

There’s another unconventional way to distract yourself from pressing fears, Oxford suggested. It’s a game of tetras. Researchers have found that in stacking falling “cubes,” people change their memories of negative events.

Listing Objects.

Try for a minute to list the items you see., you will add more words. In this exercise, your brain switches from emotion to logical reasoning (naming objects), blood flows from your right hemisphere to your left hemisphere, and you calm down.

If you practice this way for a week, at the right moment, you will only need 2-3 seconds to switch.

How do you practice? Naming 15-20 objects (about 1 minute) is enough in your free time. It is unnecessary to count, only to enumerate.

Breathing technique

This and the previous method can not completely get rid of fear. They can only weaken this feeling at the right moment.

Take a half breath, then slowly breathe out completely. Don’t breathe for 2 seconds. Then repeat these steps until you feel your heart slow down. This exercise deprives your brain of oxygen and allows you to calm down.

Going to a psychologist

How does a psychologist help with fear? He helps a person take the first steps to look at his fear. Often a person is afraid to ask themselves questions, to face their fear. It is difficult to do this.

A psychologist from the outside makes it much easier to explore that fear. He may ask something completely trivial:

  • what are you afraid of?
  • what exactly it is those that scare you?
  • what will happen if it happens?

The psychologist helps the person explore his or her own fear. And this first step is the most difficult and most important in this work.

Next, when the person explores his or her own fear, he or she moves. A psychologist can accompany him in this process, help him integrate his new experience, to show the flip side, which the person in fear does not notice. As step by step, the person gets rid of the fear.

How fear works

In case of danger, the human brain engages three key areas. First comes the reaction from the amygdala. This is the area of the human brain responsible for emotional reactions and the generation of fear in particular. The amygdala speeds up breathing and heart rate and prepares the person for active actions.

The hippocampus, storage of memory, and the prefrontal cortex, the analytic center of the brain, are connected next. These areas help to correctly explain a situation of concern. For example, when you watch a lion in the zoo, the first reaction follows from the amygdala - to run away as far as possible. But then the prefrontal cortex helps to understand that the lion is in the cage and there is nothing to be afraid of.

What conclusion can be drawn? In order for a person to eventually make the right decision, the “thinking” brain must give feedback to the “emotional” brain.

Overcoming the initial impulse to “fight or flight” through an awareness of the unreality of the threat gives a person a sense of security and satisfaction. That’s why many people love “horror movies.” But not everyone does.

Why we are afraid for no reason

Some people cannot inhibit the violent activity of their amygdala (amygdala body), so they take horror movies and literature too personally, as if something really threatens them in real life.

The same feeling is felt by someone suffering from a phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder. Uncontrollable fear “overstimulates” his amygdala, driving the body into a state of stress and preventing the prefrontal cortex from evaluating the situation soberly.

A decisive role in the emergence of this irrational fear is played by deeply rooted, negative memories of experiences. For example, a survivor of a car accident shudders for a long time even from a simple squeal of the brakes. This conditioned reaction then fades, but the memory of the original unfortunate event does not disappear and may resurface if a similar situation arises.

Researchers at the University of the West in London found psychotomimetic episodes cause long-term activation of amygdala and hippocampal neurons. This means that a person can have prolonged feelings of heightened anxiety associated with the subject of fear, depriving them of the ability to function normally and enjoy life.

There is no need to suppress the fear

There is no need to suppress a compulsive fear directly, especially when we are talking about a so-called “justified” fear that has developed because of a serious physical or psychological trauma. With irrational fear, such a method will not work either, but will lead to the opposite result. It is important to work through the fear correctly.

This was clearly showed by American scientists comparing the effectiveness of different strategies used by pregnant women in the United States to reduce panic during the Zika epidemic.

The most unsuccessful was the method of displacement: those who consciously tried to suppress in themselves any fears, in the future, showed the highest level of anxiety. The conclusion is obvious: it is unnecessary to suppress fear. We must learn to tame it.

How Anxiety Anticipation Works

Most of all, in a dangerous situation, many people are anxious about the unknown future, which is skillfully exploited by the creators of horror films.

The state of anxious anticipation increases the feeling of impending danger, which can affect the subjective perception of time and pain. And this is scientifically proven! For example, for novice skydivers, the waiting before jumping out of the plane lasts indefinitely, although in fact it takes a few minutes.

This phenomenon is more or less familiar to everyone. Remember how you “wind yourself up” on the eve of an important job interview or in line at the dentist?

Don’t beat yourself up. “Anxiety waiting” is a normal reaction to the body that helps you “get it together,” and you should only regulate it if it becomes destructive.

The best way to quell fear is to feel in control of the situation. And control is achieved through awareness and awareness.

What are overblown fears and how to confront them

Many of today’s fears are regularly fed by the media and the Internet, which can lead to “social panic”. Typically, this panic does not correspond to the real threat.

“A typical example: people are afraid of catching the Zika or Ebola virus, even though the same flu virus is statistically more likely and also dangerous. Millions die from it every year, but we still don’t take it seriously, while we glorify “exotic” infections and fear them.

This state of affairs is directly linked to the activities of the media, which form public opinion, but cannot understand the issue.

The same applies to fear of gluten, genetically changed products and vaccinations: a “reason” appears in the information space, and then people pick it up and speculate on it.

The problem of “overblown fears” is very acute, and, perhaps, the only way to combat this phenomenon is through education. Then these fears will pass into oblivion, as the fear of witches, red women and black cats once did.


Everyone, at least once in their life, has to face a scary situation. One can get scared and run away. Or fight. Or go into yourself for a while and rethink everything. Everyone makes his or her own choice. There is no perfect recipe for how to cope with fear.

The main thing is to do something. If you keep working with your fear, doing something and observing it, it recedes. You become freer.

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