What helped you directly face a fear?
November 5, 2018 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm actively planning to do something terrifying (to me; probs not super scary to 99% of people, and quite safe and physically painless in reality). How do you actually make yourself do the scary thing in the moment?

I am so off balance about this that I cry just thinking about it, so I am looking for your strategies for Day of Scary Thing, or During Scary Thing - not necessarily to avoid crying as we have covered that recently, but to, say, not cancel, and not run screaming, lock my door, etc. Whatever your scary thing is, doesn't matter, I'd like to hear your ideas.

I am seeing my therapist tonight, don't worry.
posted by wellred to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I try to get really curious about the thing and tell myself it will be an experience, and experiences make life richer, and even if it's a disaster there will be a good story to tell later.

I like to remember it's a limited amount of time and that I'll eventually come out on the other side (so, like, a scary dental procedure *will* end in a finite amount of time).

I also use a certain metric that goes like this: will it matter in a week? in a year? in ten years? That usually minimizes the situation.

If it's something I happen to be nervous about, but which lots of people seem to do with no issue, I'll give myself that kind of pep talk. "So and so does this - so why can't I?"
posted by katie at 7:22 AM on November 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

How long will it take? I try to concentrate on something like “No matter how bad it is, in 30 minutes, it will be over.”

I also like to remind myself that virtually everything I have ever feared has been worse in anticipation than in reality. My brain is quite creative in a way that reality generally fails to manifest. It will never be as bad as I’m imagining.
posted by greermahoney at 7:23 AM on November 5, 2018 [18 favorites]

Plan something fun for yourself for afterwards, that you will only do if you go through with Scary Thing.

If it's some kind of obligation or responsibility that you have been avoiding, I usually focus on how good or accomplished I will feel after completing Scary Thing. How even if Scary Thing sucks, I'm going to feel so good that it's taken care of and out of the way.

Also, you could tell a few friends about it, which holds you more accountable to actually go through with Scary Thing.

Good luck!
posted by Nightman at 7:32 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Think about the reasons why you decided to do it even though it's scary.
When you get there think about all the prep work you did & if you paid in advance. You know you can do this and on some level you want to do it. Don't go through all of this just to let yourself down.

Can you think of other times you did something scary and it turned out to be fun? A few weeks ago my hubby cajoled me to get on a rollercoaster even though I was scared and it was actually really fun.

Your fear is just your gut trying to keep you safe. But you know way more about the situation than your gut does, and you don't have to do everything it tells you to do. Thank it for its service and then do what you gotta do.
posted by bleep at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I write down every single scary consequence I can think of, no matter how irrational. This
  1. Helps me organize my thoughts rather than having free-floating anxiety
  2. Let’s me discard some of the sillier ones. Writing them out gives them form, and some of the ideas just can’t survive that
  3. Offloads the worrying thoughts, so when they come up I can say to myself "Yep, already covered that. It’s number 5 here on the list"
It doesn’t completely remove the anxiety, but it does take the catastrophizing and separate it into its own manageable container.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:46 AM on November 5, 2018 [13 favorites]

I have panic disorder with agoraphobia so I sort of know what you're going through. I don't deal well with travel in confined places, so planes, boats, trains, that sort of stuff can trigger an attack. Honestly, Klonopin and this stupid hand out from Kaiser helped me. I have my own guided imagery thing I do, but it really did work. I also have a mantra: "this is actually okay", repeated when things are actually okay, not to fake myself out, but sometimes you need to remind yourself that right now is actually okay.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:50 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Practice 7-11 breathing or similar slow, deep breathing technique. When you feel yourself start to lose control of your breathing, either before or during, remember your practice. It's remarkable how much it can take the edge off, at least in the moment.

Also, think about what an enormous relief it will be to have this stupid thing out of the way and, furthermore, shown to be not that scary after all. It will be a gift to your future self.
posted by praemunire at 7:58 AM on November 5, 2018

Best answer: For me there are a lot of things that I'm afraid of or I don't wanna do, and there is an enormous emotional hill that I have to climb in order to actually do the thing, but once the thing is underway, I address it in a very businesslike, straightforward fashion. That doesn't mean I like it. It just means that it becomes a task that needs to be achieved. In other words(?) once it is a fait accompli, once I know I am going to do it, then the fear and anxiety just goes away and it all turns into making it the most streamlined, least painful process possible.

If I no longer have to decide to do a thing but am already committed then just have to cope with it, so much of the anxiety goes away. I learn as much as possible about what to expect then I prepare as best as I can, and just get it the fuck over with.

Also this maybe sounds dumb but you can take an oral analgesic (ibuprofen works for me) which not only helps with any possible minor physical pain if it's e.g. a medical procedure or an uncomfortable plane ride or whatever but also helps with anxiety/panic/annoyance, because surprise surprise emotional pain is still pain, and OTC pain meds can take the edge off.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

For me, alcohol has been super effective. Overly effective some of the time ;-) Whether this is a good idea for you depends on what the scary thing is. If it's public speaking, probably a very bad idea. If it's clicking send on an e-mail you've spent a week working on though...
posted by Patapsco Mike at 8:07 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recently flew for the first time in 19 years. What worked for me I'd have to say was: do every thing that might possibly help, so when the day gets there, you know you have a lot to fall back on. For me this included stuff I don't believe in (I had a wooer-than-me friend do a spell, for instance) and stuff I figured likely wouldn't help but certainly wouldn't hurt (listening to a silly hypnosis app) and half a dozen other things. I should actually link to my "how do I not let this ruin my life leading up to the actual event" thread, though, as it might help with what you're asking about.
posted by Smearcase at 8:13 AM on November 5, 2018

Right up until the moment it happens it isn't real. The other person necessary to do the scary thing might be a no show. The power might fail just before you start. You might come down with a terrible digestive complaint and spend the time scheduled in the bathroom, or be involved in a fender bender and not make it.

If you spend three days worrying and crying and then the power fails and Scary Thing doesn't happen, you have spent those three days sick and miserable and panicking about something imaginary. It's not real until it is real. If you have done everything you can to set it in motion and to ensure it has a successful occurrence you don't have to think about it or anticipate it, and doing so is counter-productive.

The reason your brain is insisting on doing mental dry runs is to ensure that you have done everything you possibly can to make the traumatic experience swift, successful and safe. Your fear and misery is realistic and adaptive. Yes, you may not know anyone who was stung to death by honey bees, but someone you learned from panicked at the sight of a honey bee, and your metabolism does not know that you do not live in an agricultural environment where wild honey and wax are important enough for you to risk your life facing a swarm of enraged bees.

Take your fear seriously and over-prepare. What is the worst thing that could happen? You leap out of the aesthetian's chair, screaming and pee yourself, the result is a nasty permanently disfiguring scratch on your face, and the aesthetians verbally assault you without any restraint, calling you a coward and laughing at you, and then spread the word among everyone you know, so you end up suicidal and rejected by everyone. Okay, what can you do to prepare for this worst case scenario? Tell the aesthetian that you are have a hyper reactive flinch reflex and warn them to be careful with the depilatory tool. Carry a change of clothes. Carry the toll free suicide prevention number. Decide which way you are going to run in when you panic, so that you can get out of the salon and not have to face the aesthetitians laughing. Pay in advance so they don't harass you for payment afterwards. Okay, now the procedure can go as bad as it can, but you have the worst case scenario covered.

Whatever your feelings are they are based on something genuine. Spiders can kill you, people have died of shame, your boss could actually be psychotically evil, as such people do exist. This situation is 999999.99% likely to be not that bad - a truly remarkable number of people have been bitten by spiders and survived. An even more astonishing number of people have been bitten by spiders and never noticed the bite. So the chances are on your side that you will sail through this experience and not take any lasting harm. But just in case the spider is lethal - have someone waiting outside to pick you up and rush you to the hospital. Your feelings are valid. Your feelings are the to protect you. Accept that you dread this thing, and be aware that if 1% of 7.7 currently living billion people would dread this thing you have an awful lot of people out there who would sympathize, identify with you, and share your misery, and several million people who would dread Scary Thing so much more than you that they wouldn't do it no matter what the motivation.

Spend the next preparation period thoroughly indulging yourself in treats and self-affection (if possible sharing with others). Pay yourself in advance for doing the Scary Thing. That way when it comes time to do Scary Thing, you owe for the cream cake, the long hot soak in the tub, the afternoon with your sister watching comedy movies, and the large deposit to your RRSP. It is an excellent thing to show yourself love and support like this anyway, since it will make you a happier person, but this is a good time to focus on doing what really makes you happy, and not just queasy, or distracted.

When it comes to the moment of truth, talk. Verbally acknowledge your fear. Admit to your estranged father, "I am really nervous about what you will say, and if you will tell me something hurtful." Mention to the prompter, "I have stage fright." Say out loud to yourself, "I am scared of dogs." It is important to say these things out loud not just as silent self talk.

Continue by reassuring yourself, "But I have rehearsed carefully." "But I know you are good surgeon." "But I believe I can do this." "But you are a very small, very cute dog and I am wearing tough leather boots."

Finish with the statement "I am ready to do this."
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

The "this is actually okay" type or mental reminders are very helpful to me. I remind myself that there is someone with professional skills actively in control of every aspect of the thing I am uncomfortable experiencing (whether that's an airplane, or a medical procedure, or a legal document, etc). Granted this approach works less well if it's a not-actively-controlled scenario, like public speaking or taking a friend's toddler for the afternoon, but it's great for physical challenges. People, including me in my youth, go on roller-coasters for fun, and drawing parallels between what I'm doing and riding a roller coaster (or some other carefully architected scary experience) is helpful.
posted by aimedwander at 8:18 AM on November 5, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the answers so far, and I would love to keep going, this is really comforting. For a bit of context, it's more to do with the shame end of things, rather than say a surgery, and I'm not sure yet when or how long it will be.

seanmpuckett I am definitely considering a Robax Platinum.
posted by wellred at 8:21 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

There was a Leave it to Beaver episode where Beaver was afraid to go on the roller coaster. He talked to his friend, Gus the Fireman about it. Gus told Beaver about how in his Fireman training, he had to do some scary things and the scariest was jumping out of a window into a net. But then he did it and it was not as scary as he had thought, afterall.

As Beaver stood in line for the roller coaster, he repeated over and over to himself: "Gus and the net . . . Gus and the net . . . "

There have been many times in my life where I have gone into something repeating . . . . Gus and the net . . .
posted by augustinetill at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi wellred -- this is something I struggle with a lot, especially with social events, relationships, and medical things. It's a familiar battle I come back to again and again. It's great that you're strategizing in these terms, as I've found it helpful to work on this problem as a pattern rather than get bogged down too much in the details, and see it as an opportunity to practice how I want to be in the world.

I have found it helpful to remind myself that there's something in me that will feel overcome with fear in anticipation to an event. That part will attempt to catastrophize and turn it into a big, complicated ball of avoidance and fear. And that part can get very loud and persuasive. But! Just because it's loud and persuasive doesn't mean that I'm incapable of letting it do its thing and scream at the top of its lungs and send in what my therapist call my "firefighters" which are strategies to deal with not feeling intense emotions (which for me range from repetitive thoughts to suicidal ideation).

All of this hubbub can and likely will happen, and I try to be gentle with myself and remind myself that, despite the urgency of those firefighters, they aren't conveying anything that is especially accurate or must be listened to. I sometimes imagined myself as a freaked out dog in the middle of a thunderstorm, and this sounds silly but I kind of pat myself like I would that dog and say "aw, grrrl, I know it's hard. it's okay that it's hard." and sit with myself and those feelings.

If I can, I try to remember that I've successfully made it through this kind of fear before and gone on to have the experience that was so scary. And it's not like every time those experiences were perfect or even good. But! My choice, when I look back on the hundreds of times I've been paralyzed with fear in this way, is really between two things: letting myself opt out of a scary situation and stay instead in this bundled, shame-feeling, self-deprecating ball, OR being out in the world where a number of lovely and unexpected things could happen. I know what that bundled ball path is like. It doesn't feel good, it doesn't help me. And frankly I don't know what that out-in-the-world path is like -- it's scary precisely because I can't predict or control it. But pretty much all of the deeply happy and unexpected things in my life (times I fell in love, or made a new life friend, or experienced a band that changed my life, or found a new idea that has become a deep comfort and companion) comes from that place.

This helps calm me a bit and remind me my job isn't to defeat fear or select the Perfect Outcome, but to put myself in the position to let the happy and meaningful and beautiful things in my life happen.

Sending warm energy your way, good luck!!
posted by elephantsvanish at 8:37 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you don't have to act otherwise, like give a speech or something, I find it helps to pretend to be a large docile animal, like a cow. You have no comprehension of the meaning of shame, therefore you have no fear. People looking at you naked, for example? Moo, baby. Look at you want. I'm a mammal, you're a mammal, we all just mammals. Moo.
posted by The otter lady at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm not much of a fear conquereror in terms of doing scary things, but like everyone else I have to deal with scary existential-what-if-terrible-things-happen dread. I find that it's easy to get into a cycle of "what if... *terrible thing* happens" and just going "oh no, what if...?" "oh no, what if...?" endlessly. It's useful to break the cycle and actually answer the question.

"What if I don't get this done on time?"
"I'll have to call and say it's not ready."
"What if I call and say it's not ready?"
"They'll be annoyed."
"What if they're annoyed?"
"They might say mean things to me." etc.
"What if they say mean things to me?"
"It will hurt my feelings."
"What if it hurts my feelings?"

See how it often gets closer and closer to who cares? Even for scarier stuff (losing a job, having a major unexpected expense, etc. etc.), the answer eventually comes to something that amounts to "I'll deal with it. It may well suck, but I'll deal with it. The world will not end."

So you might try that here. "What if doing scary thing causes me shame?" "What if everyone laughs at me when I do karaoke?" "What if everyone sees that I'm a terrible dancer?" "What if everyone finds out this deeply personal thing about me?"

I think you'll find that the answer is you'll get through it and that will be comforting.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

“No matter how bad it is, in 30 minutes, it will be over.”

Yep. I talk a lot about how if there is something that hurts at the dentist that lasts longer than ten seconds, it's okay to tell them to stop. Same with most other Scary Things, you can basically stop them most of the time. There are consequences, but there are, very rarely, times where the options are "Scary Thing or DEATH"

I do a lot of redirecting to keep myself from perseverating. The time will pass as it does and if you live in your fear for the whole days/weeks leading up to the thing, you are making Scary Thing take longer than it needs to.

I also do a reward system. Something small usually like a nice meal at my favorite diner. But then I try to focus on looking forward to that and not dreading Scary Thing.

Because really, if you are at the crying over this level of concern over a thing that you intellectually know is not a big deal, this is really a lot more "You with an anxiety disorder" and not "You with genuine concerns" and I am only saying that because this, too, is me and I get it. And sometimes intellectualizing that aspect of it ("I have an anxiety disorder, this is a manifestation, I should go for a walk and not have another cup of coffee") can help you move past it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:52 AM on November 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Kinda depends on what Scary Thing is. I can think of three basic techniques that I use to work past my fear, but they're situationally dependent.

For things that are big and complicated and high stakes (like buying a house) I try to break them up into little tasks that I can wrap my head around easily, and just tackle each one as it comes.

For things that are low stakes but which I just have anxiety about (like going to a party where there will be a bunch of strangers) I remind myself that sooner or later it'll be over and that even if I make a fool of myself, it's not like I'm gonna die.

For things that are small but intense and high stakes (like stepping off the top of a ladder onto a steep roof before I've installed my safety equipment) I just shut my higher thought functions off and trust myself. I also normalize it by reminding myself that this is something people do all the time (or that I've done many times myself) and that they hardly ever die.

I also remind myself of the many big, scary, difficult things that I've done over the course of my life (I'm sure you have some of these things too, because being a person is a big, scary, difficult thing) and of the fact that I'm still here and that I haven't managed to kill myself or ruin my life in the process of doing any of those things, even if I've occasionally experienced setbacks and failures. I survived before and I'll survive again.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:53 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I remind myself that I chose to do this scary thing because in the rational comfort of not-currently-doing-the-thing I had made the decision that the benefits of doing it outweighed the risks. I acknowledge that doing the thing or imminently doing the thing makes me overweight the risks and underweight the benefits, and I remind myself that me-of-yesterday or last week or whenever made the right decision, so I just have to carry it out.
posted by telegraph at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Re shame: think of all the people in major leadership roles in our world, who do awful things, and feel zero shame. Be glad you have a conscience, but put it in perspective: whatever it is you may be ashamed of is nothing compared to what other people get away with every day, feeling absolutely no shame.

Day-of: honestly, that’s easier than the days before. The day of, you just have to exist, do the thing, then continue to exist. Treat yourself like a non-shameful person before, during, and after because that’s one thing you really can control.
posted by kapers at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2018

I use baby steps to get acclimated to things I'm afraid of. Really, really ridiculously small baby steps with lots of affirmations and breathing exercises and positive self-talk and rewards and journalling my progress with gold stars and positive quotes.

I figure out baby steps by working backwards through every aspect of an activity. So if I were afraid of eating a piece of cheese, I'd work backwards from swallowing the cheese, chewing it, having it in my mouth, biting it, having it touch my mouth, smelling it, having it near my face, having it in my hand, cutting it, opening the package, taking the package from the fridge, unloading the package from my grocery bag, bringing the bag with cheese into the house, having the bag in the car, purchasing the cheese and carrying it out, carrying the cheese through the store, selecting the cheese, looking at the cheese initially, and being in the dairy section. If I had to start with being in the dairy section for a gradually increasing length of time doing breathing exercises, I would.
posted by windykites at 9:21 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: telegraph, yes, yesterday me was smart to arrange for this horrible thing, lol!

jessamyn, this is the first time maybe ever that I have been this kind of anxious about something that I can intellectually understand as not being scary. And I see a therapist regularly. So I'm not too worried, though I realize I tend toward being more anxious than average. Thank you for the concern, though.

I'm grateful to all of you for sharing. Hugs to those who want them. Open to more ideas if you have them.
posted by wellred at 9:25 AM on November 5, 2018

A while back I went skydiving. I was a little freaked out about it. But, what I did was just break it into steps. I told myself that at each step if I wasn't sure that I was safe I could pull the plug at any time. From signing the waiver to suiting up to getting on the airplane, I kept realizing that this stage was fine, let's do the next one. By the time it came to jump out of the airplane, I didn't have a reason to not do it, so, I did it.
posted by trbrts at 9:40 AM on November 5, 2018

For some reason I made myself try to get on a flight that left at 5:15 a.m., which meant I had to be at the airport at 4:15, which is, of course, insane. I don't know why I did this thing. So I panicked about the early departure time and then that metastasized into everything was going to go wrong with this flight, so that for a couple of days before I was supposed to go I just panicked about everything to do with this trip nonstop. I'm not normally a travel freaker, but I became one for this trip because of the 5 a.m. idiocy. We raced to the airport at the last minute and I would have made it except that the spinning deathray machine thing read my saggy tights as a mortal threat so I had to get it twice and then they sent me to the unhappy TSA woman for a patdown she tried desperately to hurry through but it took forever, so I missed the flight. So I got a ticket for the next one that left five hours later and I went home and took off all my clothes and got into bed and went back to sleep and it was the most beautiful, delightful, safe, happy snooze ever in history, and everything went fine after that, which is to say, I was in airports dealing with absolute stupidity nonstop for two entire days of my life, but none of it was scary or freaky. I have no advice except that things that remind you that you are a warm, blood-circulating, moving, breathing, simple, natural animal just making its way in the world are good to do. So simple animal stuff like sleeping and drinking water and deliberately, regularly breathing. Those things are good to do during and after The Terrible Thing. And if there's anything you can do to make it incrementally less terrible, for instance, not doing it at four in the morning, by all means opt for that.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Perversely, enjoy the feeling of terror as it washes over your body. Watch it like a scientist.
I look forward to looking back on this.
It’s just a dream!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2018

Grounding exercises help me a lot when I am extremely anxious but at the same time rationally aware that I'm not in physical danger. My favorites:

- focusing on each of my senses in turn, identifying each sensation, and kind of briefly concentrating on it. E.g. I can feel the pull of gravity keeping me in my chair - I can feel my hands resting on my legs - I can hear cars going by outside - I can taste the tea I was drinking earlier - I can smell the lotion I used this morning.

- visualizing me wherever I am and then zooming out movie-style to see myself as one tiny person in the midst of thousands in my city, then zooming out another level to the country view, then the world view. Basically just giving myself a new perspective and reminding myself that the rest of the world still exists.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 4:07 PM on November 5, 2018

I watch myself do it successfully first. Then I do it.

Picked this up as a teenager as part of a meditation technique (probably most closely related to mindfulness meditation). First you work on letting all thoughts that come to your mind go - whether about the scary thing or about anything else at all. This takes time to learn and do well, but basically you just acknowledge that this thought is front of mind for you right now, then actively let it float away as you choose not to think about it. Then you rinse and repeat for however long it takes until you don't have thoughts popping up any more.

The next step is to envision your entire self, floating in front of your physical self. Almost as if your self was in an invisible orb that you are looking at from the outside, and can examine from any angle. Because I learned to do this under the auspices of envisioning myself completing a martial arts move, and I've applied it mainly in sports personally, I typically am looking slightly down at myself from directly behind, in order to see the surrounding environment clearly in addition to myself.

Then, I watch myself complete the action - a certain kick, riding down a half pipe. I will physically sway slightly but I don't leave the place that I am either sitting or standing in while I do this. You will see skiers / rally drivers / et. al. doing a version of this with their eyes closed as they complete in their mind the course that they're about to complete with their whole body. They envision successful completion in order to replicate it in reality seconds later.

It's something of a rush when you are flowing in the moment, feeling the fear and knowing that you're doing it anyway, and it's playing out exactly like it did in your head. Time slows down. A++ would recommend strongly.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:23 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Remember that while willpower is great, and facing your fears head-on can be character building I guess in some ways.....as another Mefite once said "they don't give out medals for suffering", and there's no such thing as a shortcut. If you want to take anti-anxiety medication (like psychiatric medication, not advil), or just get some to hold onto, do it. The end result of having done the thing you're afraid of is the same, and fear is a useless liar, so you might as well avoid it if you can. Don't let anyone give you shit about it, even the kindest people love to boostraps. I like to think of it like, someone isn't afraid of this, and by taking away my own anxiety I have made the playing field more level.
posted by colorblock sock at 7:50 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: therapist is very much in favour of my doing the thing, totally understands why I am freaking out, and told me how courageous it is, which felt nice. Thing still not scheduled, which is difficult. Thanks again, friends.
posted by wellred at 7:26 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

This quote from Marcus Aurelius:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
posted by qsysopr at 1:52 PM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Scary thing happens in four days, y'all. Staying reasonably calm and have not backed out.
posted by wellred at 12:24 PM on December 5, 2018

Response by poster: I did the thing, stone cold sober, and I lived. Thanks for the ideas and thoughts. I’m still absorbing. Might write more about it at another point. Hugs for those who want.
posted by wellred at 10:33 AM on December 9, 2018 [9 favorites]

Congratulations on doing the thing!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:01 PM on December 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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