4 Tips to Face Your Fears

Sick of running scared? Tired of the butterflies in your stomach getting the last word?  Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 4 tips to face fear head on.


Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #67

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to jump in with both feet. On the contrary, facing fears means starting small.

Next, write a rebuttal to your fear. (Note: the first time you try this, you probably won’t be able to think of anything - but keep trying.) Write what your biggest fan would say. Let your inner defense attorney build an argument. Jot down all the evidence that undermines your fear, even if you think it shouldn’t count. Then rinse and repeat. Create a stockpile of counter-thoughts you can turn to the next time your fear button gets pushed.

However, if you can’t bear to face your “I suck” fears, or you can’t think of any evidence to the contrary, take your pock-marked notebook to a therapist you like and trust. He or she will help you shine a bright light on those fears - and I guarantee you’ll discover they’re not as strong as you think.  

Fear-buster #4: Face Your Fear in Snack-Sized Bites.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to jump in with both feet. Our party-hating friend Brian from last week’s episode is not going to burst through the door of his next party with a big grin and jazz hands.  

On the contrary, facing fears means starting small. Before Brian’s next party, he might plan a tiny, snack-sized social goal that doesn’t make him cringe. He might plan to ask a specific co-worker about her recent vacation, ask the new guy how he’s adjusting, or smile and say hi to three people.  

For your own version, if you just know deep down you’re not going to accomplish your snack-sized goal, you haven’t gone small enough.  Shrink it to two people, or one. When that knot in your stomach magically releases, you know you’ve gone small enough.  

Then, after you’ve accomplished your teeny goal, pat yourself on the back and go a little bigger. Brian is slowly re-wiring the part of his brain that screams at him “Don’t even bother trying, you awkward tool!”   He’ll never dance on the bar, but that’s okay. The goal of facing your fear is not to change your personality, it’s to help you be more flexible and more comfortable being yourself.  With practice and time, you’ll re-wire your brain’s equivalent thought, too.

Big asterisk: facing your fears, especially at first, will feel wrong. This is not a comfortable ride. But bit by bit, you’ll trade your fear for confidence.  

And here’s the thing: in the moment, you won’t realize that change is happening. Instead, you’ll look back and realize how far you’ve come. You’ll find yourself doing whatever it is you were afraid of without thinking. And that’s when you’ll know all those butterflies in your stomach have flown away.

Next week, we’ll have the podcast’s first ever guest: Dr. Lisa Miller, a clinical psychologist, professor at Columbia University, and spirituality researcher. She’s the author of the new book "The Spiritual Child," and I got to sit down with her and learn what exactly spirituality is, why it’s important to teach it to our kids, and how to do so.

After next week, I promise we’ll finally get around to finishing our 3-part series, so be sure to tune in when we reveal toxic habit #3. In the meantime, share your comments and questions with me on Facebook!

Photo of busted fear courtesy of Shutterstock.




Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.