Are you afraid you will not be up to the task of bringing up your children now that your spouse has died? Or, is the fear of loneliness and living by yourself constantly creeping into your thoughts? Fear is a frequent part of mourning and adapting to the loss of a loved one, and it is the fuel that drives persistent worry.
Whenever one is confronted with highly distressful circumstances—death, divorce, illness, terrorism, failure, loneliness—or feels personally threatened by what has unfolded, fear is the normal human reaction that is initially expressed. Often it results from lack of self-confidence and feelings of helplessness associated with the loss.
Everybody has to deal with fear throughout life. No one is immune to it. And we are all subject to using our imagination to maximize fear as we face feelings of threat and invariably a lack of information.
Fear is good when it gives warning of impending danger on a dark night or when an unsavory character is in our path. Yet there are only two fears that are innate: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears are learned. This is significant to dwell on because if we learn our fears, we can persist, and unlearn them.
There is no magic formula for banishing fear. But it can be lessened and often eliminated over time. Here are some proven ways to manage fear and reduce the emotional and physical effects of this common emotion.
1. The most important first step is acknowledgement of fear coupled with the strong commitment to manage it. Admitting your fears to yourself and a trusted friend is absolutely essential to the formation of any plan to deal with it.
The more you keep it hidden the more you isolate yourself from support and your own defenses. It would be especially helpful if you could find someone who is dealing with a similar fear in order to share strategies.
2. Commitment begins within by reversing the language of fear. The use of language in describing fear is powerful because your self-talk plays a major role in managing and reducing anxiety. Since fear is learned, it is created by what you think, observe, and how you feed those thoughts.
Few realize the gigantic influence of thoughts on behavior. Don’t imprison yourself. Never use “I am” as in “I am fearful” when describing your fear. Use “I frequently experience” instead. Distance yourself from fear; refuse to make it your soul mate when you describe it. Tell yourself: “I am capable of conquering fear. ” Develop and repeat your own positive affirmations.
3. Get information about the source of fear. Why are you afraid you won’t be able to reinvest in life? Why are you afraid you won’t be able to live by yourself? Search for the experiences in life that have created the beliefs behind your fears. Where do they come from and who influenced you? Was it a traumatic event or essentially self-created by negative thinking?
Strengthen your inner life to reshape the beliefs and thought patterns about fear. This may mean seeing a counselor or talking with a dear friend to sort it out.
4. Ask yourself this key question: What are you telling yourself about the object of fear? That you can’t deal with it? That it has more power than you? Fear grows if you allow it. Change those thoughts. Convince yourself that you are more resourceful and powerful than any fear. Take control of the power balance. Look for the gift embedded in your fear.
5. All of the experts on fear say with one voice: face your fears and move through them. They get power when you back off. You can be afraid, and still push through the fearful circumstances. Practice in your mind’s eye what you will do when you are confronted. What will you say to yourself, and most important, what action will you take?
Turn to your Higher Power and your faith for assistance.
So what is the bottom line in dealing with fear? Fierce commitment. A major change in the way you talk to yourself and think about fear. Information on its source. Self-coaching in the use of affirmations. And then, the most critical step: the willingness to feel the fear and do the thing you fear.
Worry and fear are challenging partners—but both are controlled by one characteristic we all possess: courage. That is what each of us has to muster when facing fear and doing what we know deep inside just has to be done.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com .