How to Actually Overcome Fear

A while ago, I told a little story about my time on a flight leaving Helsinki and the kids that treated the turbulence like a roller coaster. Their perspective of the situation really aided the not-so-few of us on the flight that were overwhelmed and panicky about the turbulence. The story I told really focused on the kids and their impact on me. I really only touched on what was actually going on in my mind at the time.

So here we go.

As I’ve mentioned (a lot) before in other posts, I have General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it affects everything in my life. My worries are typically general and about the future or people’s reactions to me, not so much about particular phobias or the sort. I’m not afraid of flying or heights (I love them), and I handle turbulence pretty well when it happens. But in this instance, I actually thought it might be the end. I had a meeting with death.

What I’ve realized is that there are two ways to meet with death (most fears have this underlying fear of death, so this is also a meeting with fear). You can be frantic and say things like, “I have too much left to do!” or “I’m not ready to leave the ones I love behind!” These are normal and valid reactions to have, but that will only every intensify your anxiety or fear. And this goes with any kind of fear. Anytime I’m anxious, I immediately think of the worst things that could happen to me. My mind races to the future, to the bad things that would happen, to the reactions of the people I’d be with, to all the things that weren’t actually happening.

I’m about to tell you the secret to overcoming fear.

The second way to meet death (and fear) is to be gracious. When I was on that plane, I did the best thing I possibly could have. I closed my eyes and was present. Usually my mind is going too fast to ever be calm or present. I never feel like I’m in the body I’m in. I never feel like the space around me is reality. I’m always somewhere else. But on that plane, I could clearly feel the weight of my hands on the arm rests. I could feel my feet planted on the ground in my favourite Sperrys. I could hear the children laughing and screaming. I could hear the Italian man calming down his panicking fiance next to me. I could hear the loud rumbles of the plane fighting through the thunder storm. But I took a moment and talked to God. Even if you’re not religious, you can have this moment. I thanked God for the people I was able to love. I thanked God for good memories, my great childhood, my (supposedly) final European adventure.  I remembered everything great about my life and focused on those good things. I didn’t realize it then, but I was replacing my anxiety with pure happiness.

If you’ve read the story, then obviously the children had a great impact on the situation, but the real change happens within, with your own decision to be grateful rather than afraid. I generally give people dirty looks when they tell me, someone who combats GAD and irrational fears daily, to just not be scared. You’ll be afraid in life. This isn’t a fearless memory. But it’s an example of coping with the situation effectively. It’s a lesson in life. It’s not taking anything in your life for granted.

The key to overcoming fear is not to try to get rid of your fear. That probably isn’t gonna happen – sorry. It’s not trying to empty your mind because that won’t happen when you’re anxious, either. But remember the good memories. Be genuinely, vivaciously, and entirely grateful for the beautiful life you have lived. And that, my friends, will not kill your fear, but it will overcome it.

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