Slap your fears in their faces
They say, 'face your fears'. OK, everyone knows that! But everyone also knows it's easier said than done. How to face your fears when your heart pumps, your breath stops, your face reddens, your hands shake, your legs tremble, your stomach churns, and your brain's totally frozen.
Nervousness - anxiety - and fear
Fear is crucial for our existence. Imagine you're a caveman. You hear some noise outside your cave. You become nervous. You think, 'I must check this out, if this is a big bear we will all be dead'. When you're out there, you see nothing but the sounds draw near. Nervousness becomes anxiety now that the signs of the threat are still there, but the threat is nowhere to be seen. That will soon become fear if the big bear actually appears. That fear triggers an immediate response, fight or flight, thinking is not required. Without that fear, you'll be dead. The same fear will save you from potential accidents, dangers, threats. At those urgent moments, you won't need to think, thanks to fear. All animals have that instinct to run when they are on the edge of life and death.
So anxiety becomes fear when the threat presents itself. But we're no longer cavemen. We're modern men with modern worries, like draining phone battery, lack of WiFi, getting fat on fast food. The bears never appear, but we get the signs of threats all the time. As such, we are constantly anxious, which may seldom become fear. Strangely, our brain automatically creates psychological fears - imaginary bears - to try to make sense of that anxiety.
Anxiety: the fear that something may or may not happen in the future
Students are anxious that they won't get a job after graduation, thus they become worried when the exams come. The truth is, at the present, they don't know and can't know if they will definitely get a job or not; that anxiety cannot be solved at the present time. Thus they're forever anxious until they actually get a job, then they move on to be anxious that they won't be able to keep that job. Anxiety won't stop.
Couples are anxious that their future won't be as good as they expect, thus they become worried when arguments happen. But the more worried they are, the more likely they won't be able to overcome the arguments, and the good future may not happen - a self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth is, they can't know for sure if their future will be good at this present moment.
And for most of life's situations, anxiety will never become true fear with real threats. It will always stay at the state of a vague fear that something may or may not happen in the future. But we can't be absolutely certain of the future, so we can't really control this anxiety. It will always exist in our psychological traps.
"People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." - Thich Nhat Hanh
Call it an evolutionary fault - perhaps - we always try to find an immediate target to create immediate fears, so that our anxiety is justified. We don't see any bears, so we create imaginary bears to make sense of our anxiety.
Students are anxious that they won't get a job, but instead, they fear the exams, they fear their peers who are better than them, they fear interviews. Those things happen at the present, and those fears are created psychologically. Sadly, the students are not aware that all of those fears are created by their mind's subconsciousness, because by default, awareness arising from consciousness has very limited power over subconsciousness.
Couples are anxious that they won't have a good future, but instead, they fear arguments, they fear each other's negative emotions, they fear the feeling of separation. Those things also happen right now, at the present, and again, those fears are created psychologically. Again, couples are not aware that they create their own fears in their mind.
Speakers are anxious that their talks won't be satisfactory, but instead, they fear the stage, they fear the audience, they fear even the act of speaking itself.
The worst thing that those fears create is the physical reaction in our body. True fears pump our heart fast, draw our breath shallow, sweat our hands, tremble our legs, churn our stomach - an actual grizzly bear can even give us a heart attack. Psychologically created fears do the same things: our heart beats fast and our breath becomes heavy too before exams, before arguments, before presentations. If we can't control our heart rate and our breath, those physical reaction will feed back to our brain and make it believe that we're in danger, creating a closed loop. If this loop is not broken, we may have panic attacks.
Call out the true fears...
We need to find a way to distinguish the true fears from the psychologically created ('fake') fears. True fears are good fears, they show us why some things are more important than others, and those should be our focus and our way ahead. But fake fears stop us from getting there and deviate our focus to other activities or behaviors to relieve the negative reaction in our body and our mind. True fears never go away. But fake fears can be suppressed by not engaging in any actions, or by distractions such as entertainment or leisure.
True fears are the fears that some needs may not be fulfilled, be it old needs - in which case the fear is the loss of old need fulfillment - or new needs - in which case the fear is the inability of new need fulfillment. Those needs are well defined by Maslow: physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, self-actualization needs, and self-transcendence needs.
How to know if a fear is true? Just check if it corresponds to one of these needs. And true fears always have many ways to be fulfilled, by many actions. Students have many ways to ensure they can fulfill their financial safety needs - getting a good job is just one way. Couples have many ways to ensure they can fulfill their love and belonging needs - having a good relationship is just one way.
Fake fears are the manifestation of those true fears at the present time, in ways that prevent those actions to be carried out. Fake fears limit people's minds into thinking that there're a limited number of ways to fulfill their needs.
Students may think that getting a job is the only way to secure their financial needs, and that having good grades - higher than others - is the only way to earn a good job. As such, the fear of failing the exams is created, to justify this chain of thinking.
Couples may think that the only way to bring them the sense of love and belonging is to have a good relationship with each other, and that the only way to have a good relationship is to be together, not having conflict, make each other happy. As such, the fear of separation, or arguments, or unhappiness is created.
All of these are fake fears.
... and sweep away the fake fears
You may realize that, many times, once we engage in actions, our fears disappear. Students will no longer fear of the exams once they start to write their first words on the exam paper. They will no longer fear the interviewer once they start to open their mouth to answer the interview questions. Couples will no longer fear arguments once they start to argue and resolve the issues. Speakers will no longer fear the stage, the audience, and the act of speaking once they start to speak their first sentence.
Because all of those fears are fake. They will disappear immediately once we engage in certain actions to fulfill our needs - corresponding to the true fears. But they will never disappear if we refuse to take actions, or to use distractions as a pain relief.
So now, think about all of your current worries, nervousness, anxiety, and fears. Evaluate closely to see which ones are true - if they're true, they are directly related to certain needs. The rest - not related to any needs - are fake fears. Then draft the course of actions to fulfill those certain needs. Most importantly, decide to take those actions. Once you take actions, your fake fears will disappear.
Remember, the true fears will never disappear, because those needs will never be fully satisfied. So don't try to overcome the true fears, but use them instead. They will always be there, to guide our actions.