4 Steps to Take When You’re Afraid (How to Deal with Fear)
(Inside: How to deal with fear. Four steps to take when you’re afraid that will help you overcome your fears.)
I sat on my bed and gazed out the window; my heart felt anxious about a certain issue. Wanting to move passed the intense feelings, I started to peel back the layers of why I was feeling so stressed. There were three big concerns that caused my heart to race:
- I was concerned about the future. (Would it all turn out okay?)
- I was concerned about what other people would think. (Would they approve?)
- I was concerned about making the right decision? (Which of these choices are best?)
As I watched the trees in my backyard sway back and forth, I reflected and processed the words swirling around in my mind. Slowly, I ticked through each concern until I landed on this clarifying thought: the root of the concerns that were causing my anxiety was fear.
I am afraid
That was a turning point for me.
Because repeatedly in scripture, God tells us not to fear. He’s insistent on it. God knows what’s ahead, whether it’ll work out or not, whether people will approve or not and regardless of all of those uncertainties, he still says: Do not fear.
I decided right then and there, that instead of focusing on solving my problem, I’d focus on calming down and believing that God (who loves me) is in control of my life. These four steps moved me from anxiety to faith…
How to deal with fear: 4 steps to take
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1. Take a deep breath and say a prayer.
In bigger-is-better-America, sometimes we forget that a small timeless practice can work.
When my mom was pregnant with her first child (my older brother), she was a new Christian, living on a military base away from her family, and scared about giving birth. She didn’t know what to do with the Bible or this faith thing or how God helps. So she flipped open her Bible and page landed on Isaiah 41:10.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
She meditated on that verse. She repeated it, prayed let, let the words convince her mind that everything would be okay. (Which it was.)
Next time you fear, take a few deep breaths. Let the increased oxygen relax your body and sharpen your mind. Science proves that:
“During times of stress, or when heightened concentration is needed, focusing on one’s breathing or doing breathing exercises can indeed change the brain.”
Then meditate on an inspirational verse until you start to feel hope. (Need an encouraging verse – grab one of the 65+ verses that will help you conquer fear here.)
2. If you can’t see straight after step one’s calming practice, distract yourself in a healthy way until you are calm.
In case you think this is just a numbing practice, well…it is, but it also isn’t. You’re not numbing forever, you’re just strategically using a distraction to get you back to thinking straight. It’s a strategy used in The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (This book helps you learn emotional regulation and distress tolerance.)
Try one of these healthy distractors:
- Take a walk or exercise
- Watch mindless television
- Go to bed early
- Read a book
- Like your friends’ pictures on Facebook
- Just keep your mind off your problem and focus on feeling better
Once you’ve calmed down, you can move onto step three.
3. Acknowledge your fear. Then, peel back the layers of your fear.
Pause to acknowledge your fear. Give it space in your life; it’s trying to tell you something.
“Hello, fear. How are you today? What are you telling me to be alert about? What do you want me to learn?”
There’s something for you to learn from the fear you are feeling. These questions can help.
- Is this fear rational or irrational?
- What am I most afraid of and could I problem-solve that worst-case scenario?
- What’s the probability that my worst-case scenario is going to happen? (For example, my second birth was drama-filled with a 3-week hospital stay, waking up in a pool of blood, and an emergency c-section. However, there was a 97% chance that if I tried to get pregnant with the third baby I wanted, I wouldn’t have placenta previa again. The odds were in my favor, I pushed past the fear, and now I have a third child.)
- What can I learn from this fear? (What is the fear telling me about the situation and/or myself?)
4. Focus on the next right step
We all want all the answers right now. Why wouldn’t we? Except that isn’t how God works. Over-and-over in scripture and in our own lives, God only reveals the next right step. He wants a relationship with us, so to do that, He fosters a life where we need to walk with him one step at a time.
Here are ideas to help you find your next right step:
- Pray – Ask God to show you the next right step and expect he will.
- Be wise – Know that God most often only gives us the next right step. He’s how he works, don’t expect a 10-year detailed plan to unfold. (Read here for more examples of how God responds to those who fear in the Bible.)
- Find one solution – Every problem has a solution, maybe not a perfect one, but one that can ease the pain of the situation. Focus on finding one solution. (For example, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, my sister and I made a cancer-fighting kit for her. It was full of movies and books and hot tea. All things to get her through chemo.)
- Take action – People agree on this fact: action is an antidote to fear. Make a small move, see if it feels right, reassess and move again. (And you most likely will still feel some fear when you move forward, especially if you’re in a situation you care a lot about. Like Ruth Soukup says, “do it scared” anyway!
How to deal with fear the next time you’re afraid
Whether we’re worried we’re not cutting it as a parent, or about a loved one battling cancer, or about how we are going to pay the bills, know that we’re not always called to figure why we’re afraid.
Nope. Fear is fear and it will always be there.
Instead, we can outsmart fear. We can imperfectly fall into these four steps until we push past. Or take a shaky step forward in the middle of fear. We can move forward while scared.
Life isn’t perfect, but God is – let of fear and trust he’ll get you where you need to be.