5 Steps To Stop Fear In Its Tracks

 
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I rarely write publicly of my struggles with severe depression and anxiety. For several years, I have been answering reader questions privately via email, and I hope that by blogging about it here, more of you will find the help you are looking for.

During my recovery, I not only learned powerful tools and techniques to help with my mental health, I learned how to optimize my brain for better living, learning and working in general.

Spending time in and out of hospitals when I was younger left me unable to travel like I always dreamed I would. By creating a lifestyle business, I am now able to work anywhere in the world with just a laptop.

So, I’m making up for lost time, and I’ve noticed that travel brings up some little devils…

One of those is fear. You can insert your own fears here, but for this example, I’m going to take you step by step into how I stopped one particularly crippling fear from preventing me from living fully and having some fun.

A couple of weeks ago, I made my way to London for the first time. While I thankfully don’t suffer from a fear of flying, I do struggle with a peculiar fear of heights.

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Taking a break on top of a mountain hike. Scottsdale, AZ

I spend as much time as possible hiking high in the mountains here in Scottsdale. Interestingly, hitting the top and taking in the view never bothers me – no matter how high I climb.

But put me in a glass elevator or take me to the top of a skyscraper, and in my mind, the world is ending.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), introduced to me by a wonderful therapist, was critically important in my recovery from depression. A bonus of learning it is that I have a toolbox to help me navigate the challenges of daily life.

Step 1) Catch The Thoughts

One aspect of CBT is catching automatic thoughts. This is a term coined by Aaron Beck, who along with Albert Ellis, pioneered the therapy. I like to look at CBT as a ‘crowdsourced” tool as there have been many brilliant people who have contributed to its development.

Negative automatic thoughts go on throughout our day without us even being aware of them.

For this example, I’m referring to three recent outings:

Going to the Top of the Eiffel Tower.

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View of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France

Riding in the London Eye.

The London Eye.

The London Eye.

Big Ben. Inside The London Eye.

Big Ben. Inside The London Eye.

Going to the top of The Shard, the Tallest Building in London – Which Opened in 2012.

The Shard. London.

The Shard. London.

Night View of Tower Bridge from the Top of The Shard. London, England.

Night View of Tower Bridge from the Top of The Shard. London, England.

The Thoughts I Caught:

(While going up in the elevator):

“Damn it, they have put WAY too many people in this elevator. The cables are going to break, and I am going to die.”

(Out on the viewing deck as I inch closer to the window):

“Is this thing swaying?! Oh my God, this building is going to fall over and I am going to die.”

(Trying to walk right up to the window and look down):

“If I go too close to this window, it might break and I’m going to fall out and die.”

(And the more general beat down I give myself):

“I will never get over this. Why am I even doing this to myself? I should just quit going up in these things.”

Step 2) Acknowledge The Thought.

Once I catch one of these thoughts (and that part takes a little practice), I talk back in my own words. For me, it’s important that I talk back to myself this way. You’ll want to talk in a way that is natural for you.

“OK, Erin. Here it is. This is just a negative automatic thought. This is fear talking. You hardwired your brain for this by letting fear win for so many years. You can listen to it or you can go on with life.”

3) Counter The Thought

I was taught long ago to counter these thoughts as soon as I catch myself thinking them.

And by the way, it’s OK if you don’t believe your counter-argument. You are slowly rewiring years (in some cases a lifetime) of irrational thought pathways.

Catching the thought and countering it doesn’t cure it on the first try. This is a life practice, but stay with me, because it works.

Thought: “Damn it, they have put WAY too many people in this elevator. The cables are going to break, and I am going to die.”

Counter: “These elevators are safety checked, weight tested, and there are posted limits as to how much weight is allowed at a time.” (And believe me, I am counting heads and doing some math to hold the operator accountable.)

Thought: “Is this thing swaying?! Oh my God, this building is going to fall over and I am going to die.”

Counter: “Buildings don’t just fall over. This building was designed by expert architects and constructed by highly qualified engineers. It has passed rigorous safety inspections.”

Thought: “If I go too close to this window, it might break and I’m going to fall out and die.”

Counter: “These windows are made to withstand enormous amounts of pressure. A few people pushing up against them will never cause a break. I will not fall out of a closed window.”

Thought: “I will never get over this. Why am I even doing this to myself? I should just quit going up in these things.”

Counter: “I am ‘getting over this’. By continuing to confront my fear, I am slowly but surely overcoming it. Look at how much I have done. Remember, rewiring the brain takes time.”

4) Confront and Carry On

This is a saying I created to remind myself to keep going. It’s a throwback to the old “Keep Calm and Carry On” quote we see all over the internet. Be open to chances to be uncomfortable because it means you are working through fear.

It’s common to try this once and quit. As I mentioned above, there is no magic button. I practice, and I improve.

5) Reward Yourself

This is another of my additions. Each time I make progress, no matter how small, I take time and celebrate. Whether it’s a glass of champagne, your favorite coffee, a delicious meal or a simple high five with your partner in crime, remember to be kind to yourself.

Why Put Yourself Through This?

A friend once asked me why I insist on doing these things if it causes me so much stress.

Depression robbed me of a large chunk of my life. After recovering fully, gaining perspective and looking back, it also gave me great gifts.

One of those gifts is knowing that fear doesn’t have to win.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have even dared to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and now that I have (although it was a bit messy), it counts as one of the favorite moments of my life. I can’t imagine not having that.

(Please note:) While these techniques work for me, I am not a licensed therapist and certainly do not prescribe them. My goal is to write more about the struggles I have had and hopefully shed light on solutions that you may want to investigate further.

If this makes sense to you, I encourage you to find a local therapist who specializes in CBT.

And if you have techniques that have helped you, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
 
 
 
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Image Credit: ©Shutterstock/Kamil Martinovsky
 

Erin Matlock is founder and CEO of Brain Pages Inc, a new-media company specializing in the ethical and honest promotion of brain health and mental health professionals, products and resources. She is a life member of Mensa and served as an official testing proctor for the organization. She consults with businesses, organizations and individual providers – teaching them how to develop and position their marketing messages to build strong and lasting relationships with consumers.

Comments

  1. Hi, Erin,
    Thanks for this post about Fearless living..!
    This is really Wonderful..and feels so True and Courageous..!
    You have done a great job coming out of that fear and then showing others the way you do..!
    Thank you my dear sister..You are a STAR!!

  2. Lisa A. Stuckel says:

    Erin,

    Staying ‘positive’ is a KEY to excellent health! Looks like you are on a terrific path!!

    Lisa

  3. thank you for sharing I am faintly aware of CBT I found it to be difficult you really broke this down to a personal level because of your fears thank you and it is hardwired now cause it’s been with me for so longI’ve tried multiple coping skills help only for a moment thanks again

    • Erin Matlock, Founder says:

      Hi Tracy,

      The road out can be tough, and that is why I suggest people find a good therapist to help them. Depression and anxiety are overwhelming enough – it can become too much to try to fix everything on your own. Much love, Erin.

  4. Allison Shayne says:

    Erin,thank you so much for your honesty and wonderful tools. I have been on antidepressant for years. I exercise everyday and eat really healthy and I meditate everyday..This is my 3rd week off medicine and I am going off it for good!! My life is getting better everyday! What a gift to receive your email.I am ready to do what is needed to be present in my life!!!
    Have a day full of Joy&Fun and Happiness to YOU! Allison

    • Erin Matlock, Founder says:

      Hi Allison, thank you for such a kind note. Good for you for practicing meditation – that is another tool that has worked wonders for me. The exercise and nutrition is so important and often it is difficult for someone battling depression to stick to it. I know how hard recovery is, and my thought for you is keep going. I had many, many false starts in recovery – and from what the experts tell me, that is completely normal. Are you being monitored by your doctor while you go off of your meds? It can be a tricky process, and it is important to have your doctor along side you. Take care sweet Allison. 🙂

    • Allison, I saw your post and saw my near future self. I know that might sound weird, but I have been feeling like I’m just groping my way thru life -unmotivated, uninterested, and sad. I have just realized that if I don’t snap out of this, my purpose in life will never be accomplished, and my life will just fade away – fire extinguished. I’m more important than that. I need/want to shape up, clean up and fire up. Daily, I take 3 antidepressants, 2 anxiety pills (I hyperventilate) a muscle relaxer (teeth grinding), high blood pressure med, and I still need ambien to sleep. I want my old self back. I want to walk on this path.
      Cinda

  5. Well I am a licensed therapist and BRAVO Erin. Well said and thanks for speaking up! So many suffer secretly in silence and to many take medication which does not solve the problem.
    Great work my friend, James

    • Erin Matlock, Founder says:

      Well hello old friend! Thank you so much for stopping by, and thank you for the great work you do in this world. Proud to know you. 🙂

  6. Lori Kunz says:

    Hi Erin,
    I’ve dealt with depression all my adult life, and have been on meds for it for most of that. There is a class that I took called Depression the Way Out, by Dr. Neil Nedley. It teaches natural ways to fight depression and one of them is CBT. In fact one of the texts is all on CBT. I also read, years ago, Dr Beck’s book, Feeling Good, which introduced the concept. Both things are excellent helps in the fight. Right now I also deal with grief, having lost our 16 yr old son to brain cancer 4 yrs ago. But I am surviving, and thought control is a big part of it.

    • Erin Matlock, Founder says:

      Hi Lori, I am so sorry for your loss. No 16 year old should have to go through that — and no mother either. I’ve read Feeling Good, but I’m not familiar with Depression the Way Out. I will have to check in on that one. Do you know of Christina Rasmussen’s work with grief? Her community is called SecondFirsts (she has a book out by the same name). Here is the Facebook community – it is extremely active with wonderful people navigating life after the loss of a loved one. https://www.facebook.com/Secondfirsts

  7. Bill ONeill says:

    Erin, thanks for the great article and information. I have been working on depression and anxiety for awhile now. I have a good CBT therapist and have been learning these techniques, but you put it so simply and clearly it will be very helpful! Thanks again and I hope you continue to travel and enjoy your life. I get the anxiety at travel to and I come to Arizona every other week for work! It is getting better though.

    Take care!
    Bill

    • Erin Matlock, Founder says:

      Hello Bill! Thank you for sharing this. This article will be read by tens of thousands in our community, and I know there are people looking for more information about CBT and whether working with a therapist can work for them. Comments like yours spur others on to get the help they need.

      Every other week, huh? You are taking Confront and Carry On to an impressive level! I hope you get to enjoy the outdoors while you’re here. 🙂

  8. Thanks Erin, I don’t have many fears but one that does come my way is when I’m going to an event with a lot of people not knowing many of them. I catch myself with thoughts of worrying about what to say, then I acknowledge my thoughts and stay calm and stay present, listening to what is being said by others. This helps me to organize what I want to say. It’ s being very alert in the present moment and shedding extraneous thoughts.

    • Erin Matlock, Founder says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment. Events, parties, social gatherings can be tricky if you’re not naturally outgoing. I am so glad to hear you’ve found a way to manage the fears. — Erin

  9. Love this! CBT is awesome and works wonders. It also aided me in beating depression and negative thought patterns. Just like you, I argued with my thoughts and still do. It’s a life long tool, but I don’t have to use it near as much!

    • Erin Matlock, Founder says:

      Hi Debbie! Isn’t it wonderful when it starts to become and automatic process? The road to recovery is a hard and long one, but so well worth it.