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Overcoming Fear and Phobias
How to overcome fear and phobias. How to overcome stage fright (fear of public speaking).
The author overcame stage fright (stage terror, really) and shares his insights to help others overcome this and other fears!
I'm not sure when I realized I had stage fright or when it started. I remember an incident in my early teens. I remember, prior to that, being shy when asked to speak or sing, etc. in public. That first incident I recall had me very anxious. I was simply reading a passage from within a group of, probably, less than 20 people. I was quite nervous and anxious. I began sounding coherent, but my throat gradually constricted, as though I was choking. I could breath, but I could barely get sound out of my throat. It was irrational to me. I tried to force the words out and was just barely able to. I had to fight to communicate. I was likely sweating and panicing. I finally finished reading the short passage (not soon enough!)
Another time, in college, I had to give a speech in class and chose to speak on operating a camera, a topic I know backward and forward! I had the speach all planned out, including many key parts. When it was my turn to speak in front of the class, I was nervous, sweaty, my heart raced, and my throat constricted, so I could hardly talk. All the ideas for my planned comments became evasive, so my speech was very awkward. A speach that would come naturally to me in everyday situations caused me great anxiety. Again, I did not understand the anxiety. It made no sense. There was no threat from the audience as a result of my speach. There was not actual danger, yet the "fight or flight" instincts in me had my adrenaline surging through my body, disrupting my speach and endangering my grades!
Years later, I thought it would be fun to take a night class on acting: "Commercial Acting and On-Camera Techniques". I had long had at least a little interest in acting and especially for the entertainment business in general. Every week, for part of the class, we would be given a script for a 30-second TV commercial and would have to prepare for it (sometimes with others) and then, in FRONT of the class AND camera, perform the commercial. Sometimes we would have 2 or 3 takes. Most of what I had planned and memorized prior, would disappear at that point. I was nervous and would have to look at the script (on air) for a refresher of my lines, even if there were very few. I liked the class and worked through it (however awkwardly). I even took the next semester's advanced class. It occured to me that perhaps seeing a hypnotherapist would help with the anxiety, so I went to one. The hypnotherapy part didn't work out, but I learned some relaxation techniques and meditaion, etc. I even began learning about dream interpretation (pretty cool tool). The hypnotherapist may not have directly helped me with my stage fright, but certainly gave me new insight into life and some tools to help along the way.
After that I connected with a non-profit organization in Honolulu that helped people live up to their fullest potential. I became involved with the group. I had things to offer the group and also learned from them. I became a staff member and was later on the board of directors. I believe I had abilities and talents and moving to Hawaii was meant to connect me with these people and groups, which helped me uncover more of my potential. At one point I was thinking about how others can stand up in front of groups, cameras, or both, not seem to have a problem with it, and then share things with their audience. I recognized that I, also, have things to share and I should be able to share freely with groups, without the emotional fear and discomfort. I recognized that the ability to be comfortable in front of people was an important tool and one that I should possess. I realize it is better to HAVE the ability and NOT use it, than to NOT have the ability and not BE ABLE to use it. I committed to myself that I was going to be able to speak, comfortably, in front of groups (and cameras). Part of that was that when, in our workshops and seminars, I had something important to share and we were asked for "shares", I would just raise my hand, knowing that it was important for me to share. I basically removed my ego from the situation. I made that decision to share long before the opportunities came up. Once the opportunities arrived, my hand would go up (even if on the inside I was thinking "Ohhh sh*#, what am I doing???!). I knew that, even if uncomfortable, I was the only one who could get me through the moment. Even if fear arose, I would be patient and move through it. One of my tools was to recognize that fear is an illusion!!! It really doesn't exist!!! It is a BLUFF! The fear only had power over me if I LET IT have power over me. Another tool I came up with is that, once I shared in front of the group (or from within the group, etc.) I would give myself a mental/emotional pat on the back for succeeding! It didn't matter if I had been noticeably nervous, sweating, etc., it was STILL a SUCCESS, as I had moved through the fear, and proved the fear had NO power! The only power fear has is the bluff. It may keep bluffing and it is possible to feel fear throughout an entire event (like my sharing in front of a group), but, in reality, the fear at NO time, EVER had power. The only power it had is what I gave it!!! Once I learned that, it was just a matter of re-learning that relationship and letting go of that fear. I also let my ego know that, while it may somehow feel it is protecting me with this fear, that this is actually a safe environment and it is important for my own growth to be able to have this tool (speaking in front of cameras and groups) available to me. So, I invited me ego to work with me so that we could both be empowered! I committed to taking opportunities to speak in front of groups when they arose. One time our lead facilitator approached me shortly before a workshop was to begin. He asked me if I would introduce him. I said sure! (At the same time thinking/feeling "Nooooooooo!") I had pre-planned for these opportunities, so I would make the best choice for myself and my growth when the opportunities actually arose! Even though I was nervous, I fulfilled my duty and addressed the crowd (30 people?), offered a brief intro for our facilitator and I left the stage. Even though I was uncomfortable (instead of kicking myself, as many people might do), I silently gave myself a wonderful pat on the back (Hey GOOD job!!! WAY TO GO!!!, etc.). That's all that matters. It wouldn't have mattered if I had wetted myself or projectile vomited into the crowd (OK, maybe to them)! What mattered, was that I walked THROUGH my fear (knowing it was an illusion and had no power) and I did exactly what the fear was trying to stop me from doing!!! I took my power BACK!!! That started a domino effect of taking advantage of opportunities to practice speaking in front of groups (and cameras) and, at the same time re-proving that fear had no power. The fear showed it's face less and less. The fear was powerless, so there was really no point for it to appear in those situations. I went on to lead workshops and segments in our seminar. I may have gotten a little nervous prior to some of them, but that was just temporary and I was fine once I got started! When my book, Vice Cream, was published, I did talks and food/chef demos in front of groups around the US and Canada. I think the largest crowd was around 100 (on the plaza at Lincoln Center in NYC). I had fun doing doing the talks and demos, as well as the tour in general. I realize that fears ("fight or flight") may have had a purpose in our evolution (and still does), but I recognize it is good for us to better define what that purpose is. I don't need it when I am speaking. I can respect bodies of water, but I don't need a fear of it. I can have a healthy respect for heights, including flying in planes, but I do not need fear to be present. If the fear is keeping me, or at least potentially so, from reaching my fullest potential, then it is out of line, it is acting outside of its purpose. I believe it is important in this lifetime to remove fears while we are here. As long as I have fears, I'll never know if I'm reaching my fullest potential. As long as I have fear, there is the possibility that there are potential experiences I am avoiding in my life. It's important to let fears go; release them. There may be a reason to have a healthy respect for dangerous situations but, for some reason, in modern times paralyzing fears/phobias manifest for many people, even in very safe situations. When a person is ready, he/she can make the choice/commitment to overcome it!!! It's mostly about the commitment, the rest will work itself out!
I've decided to create this web page about the subject. I had thought about it in the past, but it became one of the many projects I've had that have been on my "to do" list or had become a back-burne project.
These principals can be applied to other types of fears. One can just take the same techniques and adapt them. That could be for overcoming fears of water or heights, etc.
For fear (actually, the illusion of fear) of flying (aerophobia, aviatophobia, aviophobia or pteromechanophobia), I would do some visualizing of being in a plane and loving it! I would visualize/affirm looking forward to arriving at a new destination; a new part of the world! I'd visualize feeling thrilled as I looked out the window at the beautiful blue skies and clouds, as well as the changing terrain below. As part of "baby steps", I'd call up a local airport and see about having a tour of the place and ask to see a plane (like a Cessna) and even sit inside it. I'd even be honest about wanting to overcome the fear of flying. (They may have some suggestions.) I recently heard about a young girl (I think she was young) who took flying lessons to overcome the fear!
Some common types of fears:
Changes - Tropophobia or Metathesiophobia
Crowds - Enochlophobia, Demophobia or Ochlophobia
Dogs - Cynophobia
Flying - Pteromerhanophobia (also Aviophobia or Aviatophobia)
Germs - Mysophobia
Heights - Acrophobia (also Altophobia, Batophobia, Hypsiphobia or Hyposophobia)
Thunder and lightning - Astraphobia (also Brontophobia, Karaunophobia, or Ceraunophobia)
Open spaces - Agoraphobia
Snakes - Ophidiophobia
Spiders - Arachnephobia or Arachnophobia
Stage fright - Topophobia
Water - Hydrophobia
Here are some steps to consider in overcoming fears:
Acknowledge the "irrationality" of fear.
Fear is actually irrational! If I wish to walk in front of some classmates or co-workers and speak to them, how rational can a fear of speaking be? If I am the only one with the answers and the others are looking forward to hearing what I have to say, how rational is fear? It creates inefficiency. The fear, itself, creates difficulty instead of avoiding it. Perhaps thousands of years ago in completely different situations it had a purpose. However, when misapplied to modern situations, it is irrational and creates road blocks/stumbling blocks.
If I decide to walk up a gradual set of stairs with sturdy railings, how rational can fear be? I'm going from floor 1 to floor 2! Floor 2 is extremely safe. The stairs are safe. The fear I experience is not rational. It does me a dis-service! It may debilitate or incapacitate me, keeping me from progress. What if I was escaping rising waters? A paralizing fear of height could prevent me from reaching safety! Fear is irrational!
Acknowledge that "fear" is actually just an illusion! Realize that "fear" is a bluff.
Fear IS an illusion. It is a veil. It is a bluff! Fear draws a line in the sand and says "Don't cross that line, OR ELSE!!!" When we heed fear's threat, then it is right! It wins! Good thing we didn't do that, right? Wrong! In some actual dangerous situations, then, yes, caution is good, but incapacitating fear is not! Fear draws that line in the sand and relies on us to never cross, because it is a complete bluff! Once we realize that fear is a bluff, then fear holds no power! When we choose to cross that line, then fear is the one that panics! Fear then has to draw a new line: "Ohhh, well you'd better NEVER cross THIS line... OR ELSE!!!" Well, if I crossed the first line and survived, then what's the big deal about the next line? And the next? And the next??? Fear will keep bluffing the whole way. It only has as much power as we give it. As we realize fear's bluffing nature, we can withdraw the power we give it! We can STOP empowering our own fear!
Pat youself on the back for ANY and ALL steps in that direction!
Pat yourself on the back for each and every "success"! Even if things don't go as well as you hoped, if you show ANY sign towards overcoming a fear, ignore everything else and pat yourself on the back! Give yourself a "Good Job!!!"; "Way to go!!!"; or "I did it!!!"
If fear tells me to NOT walk up on stage, but I DO, then I WIN!!! Fear loses! It no longer has a grip on me! Even if I stutter or choke a bit; even if I forget what I was going to say or even have an accident, I walked up onto stage and I spoke! I succeeded! I proved that my fear has no power! Fear is ONLY a bluff! I can now choose to release it. I can let it go!
GOOD JOB!!! WAY TO GO!!! I DID IT!!!
Take steps, even baby steps, toward overcoming your fear
This is individual and depends on the type of fear. For stage fright this could be as simple as introducing people to each other, then moving to introducing people to a group or audience. Starting with something very brief and moving towards more time spent in the limelight!
Pat yourself on the back with every step; every success!
Feel and acknowledge the thrill of the accomplishment
Along with the pat on the back you give yourself, reflect on the enjoyment of the moment you experienced. "Feel" the excitement and happiness! If you don't recall any, then "project" joy and excitement onto the memory of the moment. "Hey, I just spoke to 100 people! How cool is that!" (Even 10 people or 5 people!) Find the joy and gratitude in your accomplishment. Be grateful for having had the opportunity!
Take advantage of opportunites that arise to help you do this
For overcoming stage fright, this could be opportunities to introduce someone at a meeting or a lecture. It may mean asking a question of a speaker when given the opportunity.
For overcoming the fear of water, this could mean spending some time near (or in) a fountain or pool you are walking by. This could mean dangling your feet in the pool or fountain and taking joy in the peaceful sounds and sights. It could mean taking your shoes off and wading.
For overcoming the fear of heights, this may mean taking the outside stairs instead of inside or taking the "glass" elevator on the outside of a building instead of an internal (non-glass) one. It may mean climbing a ladder or swinging on a swing.
For overcoming the fear of flying, this could mean stopping by a small airfield or air museum and touring the planes and even climbing in one and feeling comfortable with planes and the flying experience. Perhaps it would mean taking the opportunity to take flying lessons and even get a pilot's license!
There are many types of "fears". Consider for yourself what your "opportunities" could look like (or feel/smell like, etc.)
Use uplifting, positive affirmations, or "self talk", to help erase old unproductive thoughts, patterns, and behaviors; release old programming. Use "I am" statements. Make them present tense, as though they are already true. Avoid "negative" words, like "don't" or "not". Make your affirmations vibrant and enthusiastic, so you can feel uplifted and full of life.
An example for overcoming stage fright could be: "I thoroughly enjoy speaking to groups of people of all sizes!"; "I love sharing my experiences with groups of people!"; or simply "I enjoy public speaking!"
For fear of heights: "I feel calm and completely at ease at any height!" or "I thoroughly enjoy the views I experience at higher elevations!"
Visualizations are another form of affirmations, but add dimention and make the affirmed situations more real. Visualize yourself (as though through your own eyes) succeeding wonderfully, in whatever situations you wish to see yourself succeeding in. Feel wonderful emotions and other senses in the visualization.
For stage freight, visualize feeling great and empowered, standing on stage and in front of a camera, looking out over the crowd and camerapersons, feeling honored and thrilled to be there, at the same time feeling calm and at peace.
Recognize the greatness within you!!! Recognize the hidden powers and abilities you already have!
Anyone you see sharing their ideas an abilities in front of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of peole has things to share with others. SO DO YOU! Every one of us has things to share with this world. Perhaps there are things that others need to hear and it can only come from you! What if there are souls in this world that are waiting for your help or inspiration?
Recognize the gifts and greatness that YOU have! How much do you want to move forward in your life? How much do you want to inspire or teach others? How much of your own potential do you want to live up to? 30%? 45%? 65%? 100%??? Instead of looking at what may be keeping you from reaching that 100% (or "110%), consider what it is you need to do to get there. What steps do you need to take to reach your fullest potential?
What are you afraid of?
Just another quick thought on fear... What is it you are afraid of? Are you afraid of failure? Or... are you afraid of your own success? What if you no longer had any fear? What if you had nothing holding you back and you actually took major steps forward in your life? What if you had success??? Are you OK with that? Be alright with it. Embrace your own success. Be accepting of your success and your own greatness! It's OK! It may be that you are the only one who can accomplish certain things in this world. Be OK with succeeding and accomplishing those tasks/missions! You wouldn't be here if you weren't able to accomplish the things that you are meant to!
Speak to your ego
I have no doubt that the ego has a purpose. I also realize that it may often overstep it's bounds and get carried away with trying to control us. It's one thing to stop us from jumping off a dangerous cliff, it's another thing to paralize us and keep us from stepping in front of a group of co-workers to speak, which could cost us a promotion, etc. If the ego is involed with the fears that we experience, then we need to work with it to help it let go of that control, which prevents us from growing.
The ego may perceive danger in certain situations where none really exist and act accordingly. The ego may try to influence us to avoid the situation or experience. Fear may appear to try to discourage us from that situation.
If we do not communicate with the ego, it may continue unchecked, believing it is doing a good thing, when it may be hurting us, both of us (ego and self).
If I thank my ego for helping to protect me, but ensure that certain situations likely offer no threat, this may help to release the fears that arise. Furthermore, if I let the ego know that allowing me more room to grow and allowing me more experiences, then not only will I be empowered, but ego will also be stronge. We both are able to grow.
Get support from family and friends
Consider letting supportive people around you know about your overcoming your fear. Additional and external pats on the back are very nice and add an extra boost towards achieving your goals and letting go of the fear. Thay may also be able to help you find opportunities for doing so.
Fear of water examples:
Jump in a puddle! Congratulations! Run through the edge of a lake or pond on a shallow beach! Congratulations! Walk through a wading pool! Congratulations! Sit in a wading pool! Congratulations! Stand on the steps in a pool. Move to the next deeper step. Stand in the shallow end. Dunk your head. Congratulations!
If your fears are holding you back, then consider empowering yourself!
Take back control of your life! Take the steps necessary to help you
live up to your fullest potential (and you DO have tremendous potential)!!!
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