One of the things that make dealing with fear and anxiety so soul-draining is the fact that our fears don’t reside on a neat list someplace in our brain.  They are a set of responses to specific thoughts we have, physical and emotional responses to things we have learned to fear in our thinking.  And they form a kind of web or net, connecting to each other.  In a metaphorical but very real sense they form the building blocks of your Comfort Zone.

If you’re making any efforts in your life to deal with your fears and anxieties you’ve already learned this in a direct, visceral way.  You can’t just cleanly address one fear, not usually.  You tug at one of your fears, and suddenly it’s a small dinner party of your anxieties, all reminding you why it feels SO much better to just sit in your chair and leave your fears alone.  You started with one fear or anxiety issue, and three more showed up to give you grief.

This can make it very difficult, very scary to make a serious move towards challenging your fears.  It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the competing voices of your fears.  You may not even start out conscious of the fact that you’re under bombardment from several different fears – all you know is that you feel overwhelmed and out-gunned. 

What to do?  One recommendation I have is to remember that ALL of your fears are in your head – i.e., you are in no immediate danger.  One fear, eight fears, fifteen fears – they are all fears that we have learned and (usually without meaning to) strengthened in our thinking.  Keep this in mind as you tackle a specific issue that makes you anxious or worried, remembering that unplugging one fear will help you against the rest of the fears you’re harboring.  Another way of saying this is that it is OK to NOT worry about the others for the moment – it’s legal to focus on one at a time, and work to dismiss the rest until later.

A second recommendation is to list out your fears (I know, scary to even contemplate, but hear me out for a minute!)  This is a very interesting exercise that I learned when I was overcoming panic attacks/chronic anxiety.  I had a significant number of fears, but when I wrote them out I realized that they came down to three or four general concerns/worries.  I really didn’t have that many fears – I just had a lot of different worries that came out of my small, core handful of anxieties.

For example: let’s say you find yourself worried about your credit card bill.  You don’t really want to check your statement, you don’t go online when your bill is ready, you’re scared to know how much you owe.  You have another fear about your checking account – you HATE to see the balance, every time you look it makes your stomach hurt, etc.  And let’s say that you dread when a certain friend calls because you owe them several hundred dollars, and you don’t want to have to tell them you don’t have the money yet.  Obviously all these fears tie back to some real anxiety around money and money management.  They look like different fears, but they’re really just different faces of the same fear.

A third thing to keep in mind as you think about tackling one of your fears is that you won’t do it overnight.  You’re going to have to give your fear/anxiety work a little time, usually with several or even multiple sessions, to see solid reduction in your automatic responses to your fearful issue.  Permit me to refer you to the earlier blog posts here about using what I call “triad” to challenge your anxieties, and in those posts the discussion around taking breaks, being patient with yourself. 

It can be maddening and very draining to try to unplug one fear and have three others drop in for a chat.  Don’t let that crowd shut down your efforts to gain mastery over your fears and anxieties.  You have more strength than you know.  Tell them to take a number, while you work to change your thinking and your reactions.  You can do this!