Conquering Fear, a Simple Approach to Simple Fears
It has been said that some people are born with reins in their hands. I was one of those people. If I wasn't riding, I was reading about horses or drawing pictures of them. My earliest memories of riding were rental stables where you can rent a horse by the hour. All my hard earned extra monies went to these establishments.
I bought my first horse at the age of 22. She was a beautiful three year old mare named Poco Gemina Nine. From that first day, I spent hours and hours at least five days a week, learning how to take care of her, and getting to know her.
Now anyone that knows horses would know that at the age of 3, she was as 'green' as I was as the owner. Green is the term for being new at everything she had learned. She was a bit fidgety at all her new surroundings. Riding her was a new experience to me too, as she had much more energy than the older well worked horses at the places I had gone to rent them.
She would balk at trying some things and would even refuse to go certain directions that scared her. Since I was new at training a horse, we were both learning together and I often let her have her way.
Then it happened. One beautiful summer day we were walking around the parameter of my father's land. They were some loose sticks and small logs on the ground, and we walked over them. Although my horse was well over 1300 pounds, it scared her to walk and feel the sticks move under her hooves. She began backing up to get away from them. I was a little too slow to calm her down and the next thing I knew she was stumbling down almost in a sitting position. I stayed on her as I felt her weight trying to pull herself up. When she was almost up again on her legs, the girth on the saddle ripped in two. Well the saddle, with me still on it, went flying backwards. My neck hit a wooden saw horse and broke it in two.
I was rushed to the nearest hospital, and the doctor told me I was lucky that my neck wasn't broken. Battered and bruised, I continued to ride my beautiful mare but I noticed I now rode with hesitation. Shortly after that, my sister fell from her horse while jumping and broke a disk in her back. Fear was building inside me. I started to spend less and less time riding.
Then I went to my favorite annual horse show, The Longhorn Rodeo. During the bronco busting event, a rider was thrown from his horse. Somehow his riding glove got caught on his saddle, with his hand still in it. For what seemed like eternity, I watched as two riders desperately tried to get his horse to stop and set him free. He was rammed up again and again against the railing of the arena, and kicked at as the horse tried to free himself of the now limp and unconscious man. I thought I was seeing my first death in action. The two riders finally got him released, and to my surprise, he limped out of the arena a bit later with the crowd cheering.
I pretty much stopped riding at that point. Fear grows the more you think about what and why you are afraid. I was at a crossroads. I had to either give up my beautiful horse, or learn to overcome my fears. Since I had become quite attached to her, my solution was to eliminate the fear.
We must understand fear before we can hope to eliminate it. There are some basic points about fear that can help us understand it.
- Most fears are learned. This means that even if you have had them for years, they can be unlearned.
- Fear is a habit. Like other bad habits, you can change it.
- With knowledge about fear, and with willpower, you can eliminate these fears in time.
Fear can Spread
You must educate yourself about these fears. How do these fears work? People do things to maintain their fears. They see great dangers when the dangers are very small, or sometimes when none at all exists. Fear does not stay confined to one bad situation either. It spreads to other similar situations, resulting it terrors that stem from association only.
How the Body Reacts
What bodily reactions are produced by these fears? Icy fingers, sweaty palms, wobbly knees, and dry mouths are occasionally experienced. The heartbeat quickens and blood circulates faster. Shallow breathing often follows and leads to fainting. The physical signs of fear are caused by involuntary nerves. These nerves are not under any direct control, they are responses to feelings. All that can be done to stop these reactions is to change the feelings that cause the fear.
The first step in conquering fear is learning to relax. You need to take control of your tension and decrease it.
Relaxation must take place in the presence of whatever causes the fear. This is an important point because it is impossible to display two behavioral responses - fear and relaxation- at the same time.
There is one relaxation exercise that takes about seven minutes to do and has very good results in relieving tension. Relaxation is achieved by tightening the muscles enough so that the tension builds up, then, letting it explode out.
You start by lying down and being comfortable, arms at your side and eyes closed. Make sure to concentrate on whatever you are doing. Tighten all the muscles in your body at the same time. Do not strain the muscles but make sure you can feel the tension build up. Study this tension and get to know what parts of your body feel it most. Squeeze your toes together and point them away from your body. This will tighten your thighs and buttocks. Raise your arms with your fists clenched. Clench your teeth, arch your neck, and keep your eyes shut. Relax and let all the tension explode out. Concentrate on this feeling. Make sure that the tension has left every muscle.
Now, take a deep breath and hold it for twenty seconds. Slowly release the breath and continue to breath as if in a deep sleep. Imagine a pleasant scene and relax every muscle again by starting with your toes and going one at a time till you get to your head. After this exercise, you will open your eyes and feel awake, alert and very refreshed.
The second step in conquering fear is to stop fear in advance. People imagine what they are afraid of beforehand. They let their imagination run wild and prepare for any kind of disaster and talk about it, making matters worse. This can set up a self-fulfilling prophecy by making a person panic and actually cause the feared event to happen.
Stop the moment you begin to fear in advance . Sit down and think of something pleasant. Try your relaxation exercise. It may be difficult to stop these thoughts in advance at first, but with practice, it can eventually become a habit.
The final step in conquering your fear is to do what ever frightens you. First try acting out the situation in your mind. Follow through the entire event. See yourself to a successful finish. Practice this until it becomes a habit. Next, try the actual event. Do it with someone that you feel confident with. Take things slow and easy. Keep reminding yourself that you are succeeding. Say positive statements about the activity you are trying to control. Again, practice this until it becomes a habit. Keep practicing this event in your mind and in your real life.
By learning how to take charge like this, there will be a steady reduction of your fear reactions. This reduction will enable you to cope with your fears and you will soon find out that the fear no longer exists.
Learning to take charge of any situation is the key to conquering fears. This can be accomplished by learning about your body, learning how to relax it and how to release your tensions.
Along with learning about your body , you must also learn to know your mind . You can control what thoughts you have. Remember to repeat positive statements about a successful outcome. After you know your mind and body, you must take charge of your life and do these things that once frightened you. Only then can you feel that you have been successful in conquering your fears.
I first used this technique when I was afraid of riding my horse and it worked very well. It basically is a combination of meditation and self hypnosis. I have since used it on various incidents in my life that caused fear. It has always worked for me.
"We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot."
Pensterheim, Herbert, Ph.D. and Jean Baer. Stop Running Scared. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1977
McNear, Suzanne. "Standing up to Fear." Cosmopolitan, April 1982, pp. 253-256 ·
© 2013 Rebecca Shepherd Thomas