Mind & Body

a psychologist’s guide to controlling fear

Fear is something we have all felt at some point or another, and especially within the last year. Psychologist Dr Amy Silver shares six steps to controlling fear so that you can act, speak and ~be~ more authentically yourself – without the unrealistic expectations and people-pleasing. 

Fear is a natural response when we perceive a threat, and we’ve all felt that over the past year during the sudden changes to our lives brought on by COVID-19.

But fear isn’t all bad – it keeps us safe and at times can certainly bring out the best of us, even give us a thrill. While one in seven Australians have suffered some sort of anxiety disorder, being anxious or fearful is something many of us experience daily. However, fear can become dominant, so loud in our head that it controls our choices and our behaviour.

We may experience thoughts about not being good enough or being rejected. We may hold ourselves back, put ourselves down or become preoccupied with thoughts about failing. Behaviorally we can start to favour avoidance, preferring to pull back, keep quiet, not stand out, not tell our truth or stand up for what we think or feel. Equally fear can push us towards unrealistic expectations or we may say yes when we should say no, trying to please people.

So, if you would like to grow your courage, show up, stand up, speak up or simply be more of who you want to be, here are six tips to control your fear.

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1. Understand fear and your relationship with it

Tune into what your fear says. Imagine it as a person. How does it makes you feel and what does it want you to do. Perhaps you will start to see times, situations, people, conversations, tasks where the fear voice starts to dominate and control your feelings and your actions. Learning the patterns is essential if you are not going to let it gain control.

2. Practice self-compassion

We have survived over hundreds of thousands of years because of the incredible threat seeking a sense of fear. However, we are often very critical of our difficult feelings. We can try to shut them down, ignore them or add on a heap of other negative feelings such as shame or guilt. There is nothing wrong with the feeling of fear, and nothing wrong with us for having it. Welcome fear to your party, they are coming anyway!

3. Separate fear from you

Fear wants to control us but we don’t have to do what fear tells us to do. Remembering that we are separate from our emotions means we create a space to gain control. Even the difference between ‘I feel worried’ rather than ‘I am worried’ reminds us that we are not the feeling, we are the person experiencing the feeling.

4. Work out the message of your fear

We want to hear the messages that fear has, the bits that are true and useful. We also want to recognise the hyperbole or catastrophic chatter that keeps us stuck. Is any of what fear says relevant in the past but not relevant now? Is it fair to you or those around you to listen to the fear as much as it wants us to? What would someone you love say if they could hear what the fear voice is saying?

5. Work out what you want, not what fear wants

We know what fear wants. It’s trying to protect you. However, if it had its way it would reduce your life so much just to keep you playing small, avoiding failure, growth, change, being let down etc. Ask yourself, ‘what do I want?’ and ‘how much does fear get in the way of that?’. Spend time writing about what you could do if fear was less in control and you could hear more from your courage voice.

6. Practice moving fear to a back seat

We don’t want to be fearless, that would be dangerous. We want to be able to hear its advice and thoughts, but we also want to be able to move it to the back seat not the driving seat! Calm your fear by using grounding techniques while at the same time moving forward with our own goals. Create experiments, tiny steps you can use to evaluate, learn and refine as you progress. Learn how to control fear so fear doesn’t control you.

In an emergency please call 000.

If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24- hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 46 36 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-12am AEST) or email response.

Dr Amy Silver is a psychologist, speaker and author of The Loudest Guest: How to control and change your relationship with fear. She is the founder of The Courage Club, the place to outgrow your fears.