The answer is yes, and no.
No, you can probably never get rid of all your fears. Yes, you can stop letting your fears control your actions. And yes, you can feel less afraid and anxious. There are two approaches.
The standard therapy for fear and anxiety is to learn to manage the physical and mental characteristics of fear and anxiety. This is often called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. Some of the techniques for managing fear and anxiety are:
- Breathing exercises
- Defusing thoughts (Paying less attention to troublesome thoughts)
- Accommodating (making room for) your feelings (rather than avoiding or suppressing them)
- Mindfulness (staying in the here and now)
The second approach to fear and anxiety is a mixture of various psychodynamic therapies; I think of it as Present Focused Psychodynamic Therapy (PFPT). Psychodynamic means that it addresses how your mind works. Present focused means that we are working with what is happening inside you right here, right now. The goal is to make you more aware of your internal process.
In PFPT, I treat most fear and anxiety as defenses which means they are not primary emotions. They are substitutes for some other feeling. I find the two most common primary emotions that people cover up with anxiety are anger and excitement.
Anger is an emotion that many people have difficulty expressing or even feeling. Excitement is the riskiest emotion of all because it entails the greatest risk of disappointment.
Where did you learn to cover up one emotion with another, for example, cover anger with anxiety? You learned in your family of origin. Do you have to know how you learned? Knowing how can help but the important thing is to become aware of what you are actually feeling in the present moment.
The benefit of PFPT is that it can allow you to actually null out some of your fears and anxieties. When you get in touch with the underlying feeling (anger or excitement perhaps), the anxiety decreases for now. I’m not saying that the same anxiety won’t come back on another occasion. I’m saying that it may go away on this occasion, allowing you to experience a more authentic mental and emotional state.
Used together, CPT and PFPT provide a strong approach to dealing with fear, anxiety, and their ugly stepsister depression.
Becoming virtually fearless does not mean all your fears and anxieties disappear. It means they no longer control your behavior.
Plain and Simple Advice
Next time you are feeling fearful or anxious, do this:
- Stop for a moment
- Breathe deeply
- Slow down and clear your thoughts as best you can. (I say to myself “these thoughts are unimportant at this moment, I will think about them later.”)
- Ask yourself what triggered your fear or anxiety.
- Ask yourself what other emotion you might be feeling right now.
- If possible, let yourself feel the other emotion.
- Check to see if your fear or anxiety decreases.
- Continue breathing deeply