I almost did not go to New York as planned this past January. There was this wonderful opportunity of a speaking tour in Los Angeles and New York, and yet I felt like backing out. Why? Because of fear.
My fear was a reaction to my previous trip. In January 2015, I returned from an overseas journey with a cold. The cold turned into flu,then pneumonia and then whooping cough. I was ill for months. In my mind, the plane trip was the source of my illness. That is why, when I was contemplating another long flight, I got scared. What if I got sick again?
I am not alone. Many people experience fear for all sorts of reasons. Fear can be around for many years or, as in my case, suddenly appear in relation to an event. Once one is gripped by fear it has negative consequences.
Fear can result in you not doing the things you want to do or reach your goals. Fear can be grounded in a real event or can be totally irrational. Either way it can be crippling. Also, if you do not tackle your fear it will grow and become entrenched.
That is why I was determined to face my fear and go. Not only was it a very successful trip but I returned in the peak of health and with no jet lag. My fear had proven to be totally groundless.
I was thrilled that I had a tool to conquer my fear. It is called exposure. Simply put it means that you place yourself in the situation that you are afraid of and, if you stay there long enough, your anxiety will diminish.
This technique was researched and validated in the 1960’s by behavioural psychologists. Behaviourists believe that a stimulus leads to a response and we can control our responses. We do not need insight or understanding.We do not need to analyse our past.
All we need to do is act to change our fear response.
This is how it works. Let’s say that you are afraid of riding in a lift. The most effective strategy to conquer your fear is to ride in a lift. That is far better than talking about it. The easiest way to achieve your goal is to approach the lift in a step by step manner such as:
- standing close to the lift,
- then walking into the lift,
- then riding one floor in the lift,
- then increasing the time in the lift until you can ride in a lift for 20 floors.
Fear of flying is treated the same way. Airlines have simulators where panicked passengers can work through an exposure plan with an experienced coach until they can comfortably endure a flight.
Whatever it is that you fear, the way to get over it is to just do what you fear. Expose yourself to your feared situation and breathe through it. You will soon feel your panic subside.
In my case, I booked my flight, got on the plane and decided to enjoy my trip. I was fully present every day and did worry about the possibility of getting sick on my return. By literally going through the situation I was afraid of (enduring a long flight) and not getting sick afterwards was all I needed for my fear to be totally cured.