What You Need to Know About Fear (And the Best Way to Handle It)

Fear is an emotion that can paralyse you and impact your ability to pursue your goals. Understanding how fear works enables you to handle it better and allows you to live your life to the fullest.  


It’s an unpleasant feeling we experience when we find ourselves in certain situations. And it can paralyse or compel us to do things we wouldn’t have done under normal circumstances. 

But the truth about fear is that it is learned. Otherwise, why would some people be afraid in certain situations while others are not? Those who are unafraid simply learned not to be afraid in those situations. 

All that points to one fact:

That fear can be unlearned. 

So, how can you unlearn and handle fear? 

That’s what we’re going to discuss in this article. We’ll talk about what you need to understand about fear so that you can overcome it and lead a better life. 

The Meaning of Fear 

Fear is a basic human emotion that we develop to protect us from danger. We learn this emotion from our parents, key people in our lives, and through misinformation. And it warns us about things that could harm us, often even influencing how we react to avert those dangers. 

What’s more, fear can either be sudden or sneak up on you gradually. 

It also depends on how imminent the danger you perceive is. The more imminent it is, the bigger the fear, and the bigger the urge to take action to avert the danger. 

There are two basic components of fear:

  1. A stimulus from the outside world
  2. The meaning that we give to that stimulus and what we imagine it to be

This combination influences our thought processes and imagination. It makes us believe that we are about to lose something we value – our life, health, reputation, etc. That’s what causes us to feel fear. 

Let’s use an example to better understand the idea.

My wife has to leave the room whenever I put a scary movie on. Naturally, the movie is not going to harm her. But the images she conjured in her mind as she watches a scary movie give her the perception that she’s in danger. This, in turn, makes her afraid. 

That said, it’s not what we think that creates fear – it’s how we think. This explains why one person can be scared of dogs or spiders and another person isn’t. 

We can also learn about fear from past experiences. 

If certain configurations of events caused us harm in the past, we’re likely to develop fear whenever we see something similar to that configuration again. In essence, we create anchors to those old feelings and exhibit them in the present. 

As you know, fear is a very powerful feeling. It can decide who you are or what you’ll become in the future.

But by understanding how it works and how it affects you, you can learn to deal with it. This will then help you chart a better path to success now and in the future. 


The 2 Kinds of Fear

1. Authentic Fear

This feeling of fear is strong, sharp and real. It’s the kind of feeling you get when you are faced with real, imminent danger. 

An example of this is when you come across a dangerous animal in a park. Or when you’re faced with a gunman in a parking lot. 

This type of fear triggers an instant fight or flight response – which is a natural reaction to the situation. It stimulates us to act immediately and deal with the danger. 

With authentic fear, either you choose to contend with that danger or you flee from it. 

2. Unreal Fear

This type of fear is stimulated by our imagination of what might happen to us. 

When you have unreal fear, your brain doesn’t distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. Instead, it allows your imagination to influence your feelings and make you afraid. 

An example of unreal fear is phobias. It’s that sudden and irrational fear about a situation or an animal or a thing that’s not actually threatening, like spiders, flying, heights, etc. This unreal fear can be mild or very intense. 

Anxiety and worry are other types of unreal fear. They are usually about something that we don’t want to happen. 

The intention of unreal fear is to keep us safe from what we don’t want to happen. But they’re not doing this in a useful way because they’re not based on what’s real. 

The Best Way to Handle Fear 

The most effective way to handle fear is to hack the cycle that causes it. This entails stopping old responses to things that trigger fear. Usually, this is your imagination or thoughts around perceived danger. 

Once you identify those triggers, you can then build a new positive response to them. This enables you to replace fear with those positive responses whenever you get triggered. 

Here’s how it works:

Since you can talk or think yourself into being afraid, you can also do the same thing to handle fear. And you can start by asking yourself these two questions:

  1. How exactly do those triggers make you afraid? This will help you become aware of the trigger. 
  2. Do you have a choice about being afraid? More often than not, you’ll realise that you have a choice. From there, you can talk yourself into feeling calm whenever you feel fear. 

When talking yourself into feeling calm, use positive and affirmative language. 

If you tell yourself ‘not to be afraid’, you’ll probably feel afraid. That’s because the mind processes the negativity first before it can decide not to act on it. And once it processes the negativity, it will focus on that solely. 

By talking yourself into calmness whenever you experience fear, you can handle the emotion and prevent it from impacting your life. 

Don’t Let Fear Rule Your Life 

Fear is a basic human emotion that we learn from when we were little. It is often triggered by external events or situations. Our interpretation, imagination and perception of those external stimuli then make us afraid. 

In most cases, fear is developed to protect us from some sort of danger. But there are times when the danger is inexistent and our imagination makes us afraid of things we shouldn’t fear. This could prevent us from living our lives to the fullest or achieving our potential. 

To handle fear, find out its triggers and replace your response with positive ones. 

This makes it easier for you to talk yourself into feeling calm. And when you make it a habit, you can live your life to the fullest and achieve whatever you set your heart on. 

Best of all, this approach is something you can teach as a life coach.

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The Life Coaching College

Glen Murdoch is the founder and CEO of The Life Coaching College. He has a long history of working with Athletes and Teams as a Performance Coach and Analyst and has developed Australia's number 1 Life Coaching College.