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How to Stop Being Afraid

Updated: May 8, 2019

The one moment that taught me to appreciate - and let go of fear


Illustration: @ame.dsg

Public speaking, heights, and bugs.

Washington Post reports that these are America’s biggest fears, with 25.3 percent of surveyors saying that they fear public speaking. For me, public speaking has been a looming fear in my life, only second to crocs. (Just kidding, but also not really.) For most of my life I was really shy. In fact, I was the girl who sat in the back of most of my classes in middle school who would sit in the back of the classroom with my raggedy copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower as I completely disconnected from the world around me. I was so shy that in high school my mom made me join the debate team to get over the fact that I would shake at the thought of speaking in front of people.

While debate has given me more confidence when it comes to public speaking, there are many times when I find myself reverting back to my old ways. A perfect example of this happened a couple of weeks ago. It was an ordinary Wednesday for me, consisting of sleep deprivation and Mock Trial practice at 7:30 pm. That day we were supposed to have a scrimmage round, where we basically run through an entire practice round. Long story short I was in my car, my music was blasting, and my heart was racing as I tried to ignore the building knot in my chest from how nervous I was at the thought of speaking in front of my team and potentially messing up. As I passed down Archer I noticed that the sun was setting and that it was absolutely beautiful and in that moment, I took a pause to appreciate it.

What if I died before getting to campus? What if this was the last sunset I would ever see and instead of fully appreciating mother nature in all her beauty, I was worrying about embarrassing myself in front of people who weren’t stressing about what I was going to say? I know this sounds like the most chiché moment, but that day something seemed to click in my mind and I felt more determined than ever to be as fearless as I could be.

Fear is one of the most frustrating conditions humanity is confronted with. It holds us back but more importantly, it makes us feel like we don’t have any control. While that may feel like the case, always know that the point is not to control your environment, but rather your responses to it. Fear, just like any other thing in life, can be taught to control. The first step to getting over fear is being able to identify just what scares you and why that is the case. As I drove closer to campus that day, I pondered on this question and soon realized that what made me nervous was not the fact that I didn’t know what I was saying, but that I didn’t believe I did. The better we understand what scares us, the closer we can get to taking active steps to fixing it, which is why this must be the first step.

All of this brings me to my next step- exposure. While I hope reading this article doesn’t result in anyone jumping into a pool of bugs or anything like that (please don’t), I do hope that it inspires you into understanding that the more you expose yourself to the thought of that fear, the less power it has over you. For me this meant countless weekends spent at debate tournaments speaking in front of judges meticulously watching me for mistakes and opponents trying their best to make me look as incompetent as possible. At the time, I hated myself for taking myself for taking my mom’s advice, but as time went on, I noticed that each round consisted of less shaking Sabrina time and that I actually enjoyed the activity.

This brings me to my next step, which is a very crucial one to follow in couple with the previous one, which is to be patient with yourself. The same way that fears are not developed overnight, neither is the process of getting over them. Being afraid of something doesn’t make you a weak or vulnerable person, it is the thing that perhaps makes you most human. So be patient with yourself, be proud of yourself for not screaming at that spider outside your door or whatever it may be, because every step makes a difference and everyone around you is fighting that same battle. The only way to heal is honestly and fully, things that can only be done with self-care.

Now, for the step that has helped me the most if I’m being honest, which is that when everything fails, fake it. Fear is something that we can train ourselves to overcome, but a huge part in overcoming it is believing that it doesn’t scare us. My strategy has always been to take a step back, count to three, and then do the thing that scares me. Whether it be before I got my wisdom teeth pulled out, got my first tattoo, or before an important speech, I refuse to allow myself to appear scared the moment that thing has begun. Body language and mindset have a lot more weight than we give them credit for, but they are everything. If you appear to not be afraid, you will eventually believe you aren’t, and those around you will think the same thing too. By the end of it, you will realize that the thing you were originally afraid of wasn’t as scary as you were expecting it to be. And then you do it a second time. And a third. And with each time, you are less scared.

I end my last step where all of these realizations began – Archer Road. As I sat back and was taking in the beautiful colors, I realized that my fear was not as great as the sky surrounding me. I could allow myself to continue to be scared about Mock Trial or I could take a moment to appreciate the universe saying goodbye to a long day, and I chose to do the latter. The final step is to not take life too seriously.

This is not to mean that your fears are not valid or that you should deny yourself of your feelings. This is to mean, however, that we are only here for a limited amount of time and that we all deserve to see as many sunsets or share as many laughs during that time. So, go on that roller coaster, impulsively buy that plane ticket, or speak your mind, because our time is finite, but our happiness should never be.

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