If you have a strong fear or phobia, exposing yourself to it over and over — known as exposure therapy — is a common form of treatment. Essentially, exposure therapy desensitizes you to the fear so that it no longer provokes such a strong response.
Recent research even showed that being exposed to your fear while you sleep helps you to get over it.[i]
Of course, unless you have the ability to expose yourself to your greatest fears in your sleep, this isn’t of much practical use (for the study, researchers first conditioned participants to associate a fearful face with a certain scent, then were able to evoke the fear response during sleep by releasing the scent).
What, then, can you do to get over a fear?
6 Tips to Send Your Fear Packing …
6. Watch Others Engaging in Your Fear
Let’s say you have a fear of snakes. Watching someone else interact with a snake, and seeing that nothing bad comes of it, may be extremely effective in diminishing your fear, even more so than personally handling the snake yourself.[ii] Diminishing your fear vicariously through others may also help to make exposure therapy more effective by helping to prevent your fear from resurfacing.[iii]
5. Think Positively
It’s common for fears to return even after they’ve been eradicated using exposure therapy, but research shows that your fears are even more likely to resurface if you retain a negative attitude about the feared objects or events.[iv] Reconditioning your thought process so that you think positively about the fear, or at least avoid an automatic negative reaction to it, may help to keep your fear away long term.
If you’re stressed out, fear will become heightened and will likely lead to anxiety (a physical manifestation of fear). Relaxation is essential to get over a fear. Depending on the severity of your fear, you may need to try organized meditation, exercise, yoga or even acupuncture to help you relax. Clinical psychologist Dr. Carmen Harra told the Huffington Post:[v]
“Fear can be the accumulation of too much stress or extended pressure. A hectic life with too many responsibilities results in fear of failure. It’s essential that you take time out for yourself to relax and meditate and alleviate your anxieties.”
If your fear is to an event that you only occasionally have exposure to, distraction can be a useful tool. If you have a fear of flying, for instance, and find yourself on an airplane, try distracting yourself with an engaging crossword puzzle, a movie or music. Strenuous exercise (see below) also offers a useful distraction for certain occasional fears (such as fear about a meeting you’ll be having in the morning).
One five-minute acupuncture session cut anxiety among those with a fear of the dentist in half, and, remarkably, those who previously avoided the dentist out of fear were able to receive treatment after receiving acupuncture.[vi]
1. Exercise Intensely
High-intensity exercise has been shown to help relieve anxiety, including in those with “high anxiety sensitivity,” or an intense fear of panic. Those who engaged in intense exercise regularly had dampened anxiety reactivity when exposed to a panic-related stressor. This is one that virtually everyone can take advantage of, especially if you keep the 4-minute NO Excuse Workout on hand.