In our last blog, we looked at fear and how it is common among all people. (check it out here if you missed it) For today’s blog about fear and how to conquer fear, I’d like to focus on fear of the future: the kind of fear that usually starts with, “what if…?”
What if I lose my job?
What if I fail the test?
What if I disappoint my parents?
Look, I’m no psychologist. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just an individual who happens to be a generally fearful person. The following are some steps I try to walk through when my mind becomes overwhelmed by “what if” fears:
1. Identify your fears.
As I mentioned in Part 1, it’s important to identify our fears rather than hide from our fears. We cannot overcome our fears until we admit they exist! This is such a simple step, but its impact can be huge because it takes some of the power away from the fear and leads us toward further action.
2. Where does your fear come from?
We don’t always know where our fears come from, and that’s okay. The point is to start to identify the WHY behind your fear.
Sometimes our “what if” fears are based on past experience: if you experienced a horrible earthquake when you were little, then perhaps you’ll spend the remainder of your life fearing “what if it happens again?”.
But a lot of times, our “what if” fears come from believing a false reality. I think this is what author Dostoyevsky meant when he called fear “a consequence of lies.” You can spend months agonizing over “what if I lose my job?” because you think you’re not good enough, when the reality is that you are not at risk for losing your job because you are doing good work.
3. Talk about your fear.
Keeping our fears in the dark allows them to grow into scary monsters, lurking behind a closed door. When we crack open that door and allow some light in, our fears might become a little less scary. By telling close friends or family about how our fears are affecting us, we begin to see that our “what ifs” are not so powerful as we thought.
4. What is beyond your control?
Another thing that helps me manage my “what if” fears is making a list. For each “what if” fear, I make 2 lists: the things I have control over, and the things I do NOT have control over. Let me show you what I mean.
For example, what if I fail my next exam?
What can I control? I can study. I can do all my assignments. I can go to bed early the night before.
What is outside of my control? Which problems will be on the test. How the professor scores my essay. Whether or not the professor curves the grades. My health on the day of the exam. Etc…
Drawing a distinction between what is within my control and what is beyond of my control helps me because more often than not, I realize that I’m trying to control factors that are totally beyond my ability to ever control. Once I see this, I am free to let these things go, which leads directly to the last step.
Lastly, and most importantly, is trusting in Someone greater than me. I have to humbly acknowledge that there is much I have no control over, but there is One who holds all things together in His hands. One who has all the answers. One who is powerful enough to protect me from harm and loving enough to comfort me in my fears.
When I am overcome with fear, I take comfort knowing that I can trust God for all things scary, unsettling, and uncertain. I do this by reading Scripture that speaks of God’s character, and by praying to God directly.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
The Bible, Psalm 27:1