Learn To Cope With Fear With This One Strategy

by Julie Doran  - March 23, 2024

Have you ever found yourself struggling to cope with something you are fearful about? Developing the ability to cope with fear in a healthy way is a powerful tool to have in your ‘life skills’ toolbox.

Afterall, when it comes to trying to figure out how to cope with fear, I bet you have found that no matter how many times you try to distract yourself and push the fear away – it keeps showing up. You start to lose focus on the present because your mind is fixed on your fear. I’m here to show you that there’s a way to change that.

After my husband’s suicide attempt, you can imagine what I would be worrying about. Every day I wrestled with a hundreds of “what if” scenarios. Especially the fear of “what if he try’s it again?” I had no idea he was hurting so much that he would go down this path, believing it was his only means of relief.

While trying to navigate through this, I stumbled upon an ancient practice before I even realised it was a ‘thing.’

Actually, “stumbled upon” isn’t the right word. It emerged as an idea.

The idea came to me at a point in my life when I was deep in the middle of one of the most difficult challenges in my life. I found myself overwhelmed with worry over my husband’s health. After multiple deployments overseas while in the Army, a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following his suicide attempt led to him getting a medical discharge.

It became increasingly difficult for me to think clearly. My state of fatigue was impacting me daily. I needed to be strong – for all of us!! One of us needed to be able to think, make decisions, keep the household operating.

How I Learned To Deal With Fear

The ‘idea’ (which I know in hindsight was God-breathed inspiration) was to sit down and write out, in detail, everything that I was fearful of that might happen. Every….single…..possible….scenario.

From that list, I asked myself:

  1. If this scenario happens, what would be the consequence?
  2. What are some things I can do now that could lessen the impact of that scenario if it happened?
  3. Who could I talk to that might be able to provide additional advice on this?

Following this model, I formulated a plan. The unexpected side effect was that my fears suddenly didn’t seem so big anymore. It empowered me with mental resilience right when I needed it.

When You Have Faith but Struggle With Fear

Now, some who have faith in God might say, “God says do not fear. So fear shouldn’t be an issue”.

Here’s my take on that: the absence of fear in a person who believes in God is not a measure of the quality or size of their faith – it’s got more to do with what they DO with fear when it appears.

For me, based on my journey with God through this season, I learned so much more about His character. I adopted an approach of being in partnership with Him through this. We worked on it together to transition through it.

Some months later, after I put myself through this process of unpacking and analysing my fears, I came across Tim (Ferriss), giving a TedTalk. He introduced his audience to a Roman Stoic Philosopher called Seneca The Younger.

I learned from Tim (who learned from Seneca) that there is an operating system that enables better decision making when in a high-stress environment. This operating system also comes with a superpower; the ability to decrease emotional reactivity and increase mental toughness.

The Practice Of Stoicism

The “operating system” is known as Stoicism. It’s a method to train yourself on how to separate what you can control, from what you can’t control, and then turn your focus solely on what is within your control. Applying it to his circumstance, Tim framed it as fear-setting.

Like me, Tim found himself at a critical juncture in his life. His 14hr 7-days-a-week business was unsustainable and he was looking for options. A book he was reading on “Simplicity” contained the following quote:

We suffer more in our imagination than in reality.

seneca the younger

Greek Philosopher

Just pause for a moment and let those words sink in.

Impacted by that quote written by Seneca the Younger, Tim explored Seneca’s writings and discovered Stoicism.

Stoicism is the practice of “premeditatio malorum” – meditating in detail on worst-case scenarios for the greater purpose of overcoming paralysis and being prepared.

If your first reaction is one of “ugggh – I couldn’t think of anything more depressing or miserable to do” – then read the explanation again.

Recognise that it’s not about staying fixated on everything that could go wrong. It’s about considering all the things that could go wrong so that you can develop a plan.

Tim made this practice even more tangible when he developed his fear-setting method and turned it into a 3-stage process that you write out on three pages. Super simple.

Three Steps To Break Down Your Fear

Step 1:   At the top of a piece of paper write the following: “What If I….” (write the thing that you fear, or are putting off, feeling anxious about…)

Create three columns as shown here – and complete each one.

Column 1: Define

Make a numbered list of your “worst-case scenarios” if you take that step.

Column 2: Prevent

Make a list of what you could do to prevent, or at least decrease the likelihood (even a little) of what you identified in Column 1.

Column 3: Repair

If the worst-case scenario happened, what could you do to repair the damage, even a little bit, or who could you ask for help?

Step 2: On a new page write out this question:

“What might be the benefits of an attempt or even partial success, of what I am considering? Emotionally, financially, physically?

Write out your response – in detail!

Step 3:  Write out this next question:

“What would it cost me (emotionally, physically, financially) in 6 months, 12 months, three years if I did nothing?”

Go deep in the detail as you answer this one.

Going through this exercise has applications across multiple areas of your life. Taking what I had started previously, after watching Tim’s video, I especially found working through the “Cost of Inaction” compelling.

I’ll end this article with the same question Tim asks his audience:

“Where in your life, might it be more important at this point to define your fears rather than your goals?”

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About the Author

With a heart for God, my faith has been the bedrock of my 36-year marriage. Navigating through our own challenges and trauma inspires me to always be growing the necessary skills to help others on their own journey through my coaching and RTT expertise. I also love to write and create - so those passions combined are what have led me here.

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