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Facing Your Fears

One of the issues I work with a lot with my Mental Wellness Coach and Hypnotherapy clients is overcoming fear. In order to understand fear, we first need to look at how we are physiologically wired for a fight, flight, or freeze response when faced with something we are afraid of. Our brains work to keep us safe, and in the world of the known versus the unknown, so it resists making changes or venturing out of our comfort zones. As humans evolved, our predators were things like lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) but now in this day and age, it can be anything that your brain perceives as a threat. Your brain can’t tell the difference between a real physical threat, and an imagined one, so the same parts of our brain fire up either way. As humans, we are very unique in that we can imagine the future, not just live in the present. But our brains react in real-time, so even just imagining a perceived threat can cause the same symptoms as that flight, fight or freeze response we’ve evolved to have. You may recognize
these symptoms as anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, and PTSD.

So how can you overcome your body’s natural response to fear? Well even though we are hard-wired for these fear responses, as mammals we also are designed for something called neuroplasticity, which means that our neural pathways are moldable and can be changed to create new pathways. As babies and children up until about age 7 our minds are being shaped, as we are constantly learning from our elders what is safe and what is not, and those connections are wired into our brains. As we get older, we can still shape our minds, it just takes a bit more work. And nowadays, it becomes much more complicated because of the amount of data our brains are forced to handle every single day. In fact, we process dozens of gigabytes of information per DAY! And we have up to 60,000 thoughts per day, 80% of which are negative, and 95% of which are the same thoughts we had yesterday, which is why mindset and mindfulness are so important. Thought patterns are habits, and habits can be changed. Here are a couple of ways you can change those negative thought patterns and pull yourself out of the fear cycle.

First, be aware of your thoughts when you are faced with an uncomfortable situation that causes you to be fearful. Act as an outside observer and see how your body and brain respond. What physiological response does your body have? Does your heart race, your breath quicken, or your palms sweat? Then, notice what thoughts go through your mind about that situation. Awareness is the number one key to change habits. You can’t create a new habit if you don’t know what you are replacing. In my coaching and hypnotherapy sessions with my private clients, I teach them to be the observer, by tapping into their higher consciousness. Your subconscious takes in about a thousand times more information than your subconscious-if it didn’t, your mind would be on overload! You filter things out with the bias of your childhood upbringing, societal beliefs, and past experiences. So you need to look at what is going on behind the scenes of your subconscious mind, not just what is on the surface. Where did this fear come from? Is it rational or irrational? What is the worst thing that could happen, and what would you do if that occurred? What is the best thing that could happen if you take that action, and how would your life change for the better if you moved forward in spite of your fear? And if part of you wants to do the thing fear is holding you back from, make a pros and cons list of sorts listing the benefits and detriments of taking that action.

Next, now that you have a handle on what is happening in your mind and body surrounding that fear, take control using micro-steps. Fear is an uncomfortable thing, but it only has the power you give it. Fear cannot hurt you unless you don’t address it. Many times we try the all or nothing approach, but then we shut down when it doesn’t work. Break down the action steps you can take to overcome your fear into tiny pieces and work on one at a time. How can you calm your mind and body when you start to feel that anxiety or panic? And what baby steps can you take to expose yourself to the thing you fear without shutting down completely? Think of it as a ladder. Each rung is a small step toward the top, which represents your goal in overcoming your fear. Instead of immersing yourself completely in the situation you are afraid of, you will expand your comfort zone slowly, and prove to yourself that nothing catastrophic happens. Then move to the next step. List them out and cross each of the lists as you move
up that ladder. Empowering yourself to choose what to focus on and envisioning that future you will have when you overcome your fear, but also being mentally prepared for any outcome, is truly the key to real and lasting chance in facing your fears.

If you’d like to explore further what having the support of a mental wellness coach looks like, let’s talk.